INDIANAPOLIS — Mike Thibault confirmed he did not send a gift basket to the Los Angeles Sparks as he sat fielding questions in the bowels of Hinkle Fieldhouse. But a sly smile crept across his face Friday afternoon at the thought.
“It's not very often you get to wake up and know you're a playoff team and a lottery team at the same time,” Thibault said. “It's a good feeling because we're playing for something and we have a way to keep building, too.”
Thibault, also the Mystics’ general manager, got that coveted pick through a trade with Atlanta last offseason. He sent the No. 1 overall pick to the Dream for their No. 3 pick, Atlanta’s 2022 second-rounder and the option to swap first-round picks in 2023. The Dream was in possession of the Sparks’ first-rounder and included that in the deal. At the time, the Dream did not expect to be in contention for the postseason while the Sparks looked to have a playoff roster.
Then the season fell apart for the Sparks with the firing of coach and GM Derek Fisher and the acrimonious split with center Liz Cambage, who left after 25 games after signing as a free agent in the offseason. The Sparks’ unraveling was the Mystics’ gain.
“You don't ever know how those things are going to work out, but we felt like we were going to be a playoff team,” Thibault said. “And even if L.A. had been a playoff team, a chance to even move up a couple more picks in the draft was worth the gamble. And if it wasn't that way, we could opt to keep our own. So it was a no-lose situation for us.
“But the fact that it turned out to be a lottery pick and we’ll have maybe decent odds in the lottery, we’ll see. When you do those deals, you hope for the best, and the best worked out.”
Things to know about Friday’s game:
Strong from the start
The Mystics (21-14) nearly led wire-to-wire. They basically cruised to the 12-point victory with the Fever’s last lead coming at 6-5. Everyone who played scored, and Elena Delle Donne led the team with 24 points and seven rebounds. Elizabeth Williams scored 10 off the bench, and Shakira Austin totaled 11 rebounds.
The team desperately wanted to get back on track after losing its previous two games.
“It felt good to just, like, get out here, be on the road and get a road win,” Delle Donne said. “That’s always important, but I think we still know we can take another step, especially in preparation for what’s next to come.
“But obviously, it's always great to get a win on the road, but there's always a little bit more we can do. So excited to get back out Sunday.”
The regular season comes to a close Sunday with a home game against the Fever (5-30).
The Mystics, locked into a playoff matchup with the Storm, will open the best-of-three series with two games at Seattle. The Storm’s win over Minnesota secured the No. 4 seed.
Delle Donne said every time the Mystics step on the court these days it’s preparation for the Storm. The Fever present a good opportunity toward that end; Indiana has former Seattle coach Gary Kloppenburg on staff to coach the defense.
Forward Myisha Hines-Allen (health and safety protocols) missed the game but is expected to be cleared before the playoffs. The self-described “Bench Mob” picked up the slack with Williams finding her scoring touch, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough getting to the free throw line and being a nuisance on defense and Rui Machida (four assists) pushing the pace.
“Elena will tell you, championship teams, they need a bench,” Williams said. “It’s usually a team that can utilize all of their pieces really well. So I know whenever the bench mob comes in, we try to bring a lot of energy, try to get rebounds and do little things like that. [I] got some get low-post touches too, just trying to move without the ball because that’s important moving forward for playoffs.
“It’s going to take all of us.”
The Mystics finish every shoot-around with a half-court shooting contest with the winner taking home a bit of cash from everyone. That winner Friday morning was newcomer Jazmine Jones, who signed with the team Wednesday.
“That's my first half-court shot of the year,” Jones said. “I said it's crazy, it would be my first shoot-around with Washington. I make the half-court shot and I get $100 on a day, so I'm cool with that.”
Jones was out of the league after completing three seven-day contracts with the Connecticut Sun on July 13. She was previously on the Fever’s training camp roster before behind waived on May 1 and joining the Sun on June 15.
The 6-foot guard and 2020 No. 12 overall pick spent that off time in Tallahassee working out and hoping for a call. The phone rang at 1 p.m. Tuesday, and she was on a plane for Washington shortly after 8 p.m. Jones averaged 10.8 points in 20 games as a rookie for the New York Liberty. She didn’t play Friday.
“It was hard,” Jones said “So I try to stay out of social media. Just stay grounded, stay humble. Keep my family around me. Don’t listen to the outside noise because that’s always not good.”
Hinkle Fieldhouse, home of Butler University, is serving as a temporary home for the Fever. The team’s regular arena, Gainbridge Fieldhouse, is undergoing a renovation. Hinkle, built in 1928, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987.