The Washington Mystics began a long stretch Friday without one of their all-stars and, in some ways, it felt familiar.
As the Mystics defeated the Chicago Sky, 88-79, winning their second straight game over the same opponent, the team played without starting forward Emma Meesseman, who will spend the next month with the Belgian national team. The disturbance in continuity did not show as Washington blew open the game with a 20-0 run from the end of the second quarter into the third.
The Mystics (3-2) held the Sky (1-4) to just eight points in the third quarter.
“Our defense was really disruptive,” Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne said. “We just need to carry that over and have that in all four quarters.”
Five Washington players reached double figures, led by Delle Donne, who recovered from a slow shooting start to lead all scorers with 20 points (on 7 of 13 shooting). Point guard Tayler Hill finished with 19 points. The pair combined for six three-pointers and was 9 of 9 from the free throw line.
The combination of Delle Donne and Hill, as well as the strong contributions from guard Kristi Tolliver (12 points) and reserves Ivory Latta (10) and Tianna Hawkins (12 on 5-of-10 shooting), made up for the absence of Meesseman, a 6-4 forward.
“[Meesseman’s absence] is going to affect a lot of things,” Delle Donne said. “Obviously, not one person can replace Emma. Everybody’s going to have to step up their game just another notch. It’s going to be a collective effort.”
Meesseman, a 2015 all-star who finished last season as the team’s second-leading scorer with 15.2 points, missed most of training camp while spending time in Belgium with family and only returned to D.C. three days before the start of the regular season.
“The one thing that’s helped us is we didn’t have Emma for much of training camp,” Washington Coach Mike Thibault said. “So this group played together a lot like we did tonight in training camp and our two exhibition games, they played like this.”
With a new frontcourt of Delle Donne and Meesseman, the first four games doubled as team-building exercises. While Delle Donne ascended to fourth in the league with a 21.5 scoring average, Meesseman eased into more of a back seat role in leading the team in rebounds one night, then assists in another and ranking fifth in the WNBA in assists per turnover. However, any chemistry the pair was building will be put on hold until the end of June.
“I love playing with her,” Delle Donne said. “So it stinks that now she’s got to go for a little bit. She’s got to do her thing and she’ll be back and we’ll try to hold the fort down.”
On Friday night, 6-5 center Krystal Thomas took Meesseman’s place in the starting lineup and while splitting minutes with Hawkins, pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds.
“Whether I’m starting or coming off the bench I want to do the same thing,” Thomas said. “Try to get as many rebounds as I can … just competing and battling on every possession.”
Against her former teammates, Delle Donne faced some tough possessions.
Delle Donne was off target against the team she had spent the first four years of her remarkable career. She faced double teams. She missed her first three shots. Then near the end of the second quarter, with only one make for the game, she tried pressing and fired an attempt over two defenders that didn’t draw the rim.
“She’s going to see defenses like that and it’s not something that’s new to her,” Thibault said. “And despite all that, she comes out and gets 20.”
However, in consecutive late plays in the first half, Delle Donne broke through and looked like the player who was the 2013 WNBA rookie of the year and 2015 most valuable player.
From the left block, Delle Donne powered through for the score with 46.7 seconds remaining and shouted at the nearest referee for not blowing the whistle for the foul. Then after the next defensive stop, Delle Donne dribbled up court and, without hesitation, pulled up from 27 feet to drain the three-pointer. With two straight shots in the bag, Delle Donne turned and screamed, releasing some pent-up frustration and guiding the Mystics through their decisive run.
The Minnesota Lynx just keep rolling in May.
Ever since drafting Maya Moore in 2011, the Lynx haven’t lost a game in the month, winning 22 straight, including an 82-68 victory over the Connecticut Sun in Uncasville, Conn..
“Starting with our head coach down through the team we don’t like to waste time in training camp,” Moore said. “We get focused right away. We’re healthy and it shows on the court. We don’t believe in wasting time and waiting for our team to evolve. We start from the jump. This is who we are.”
At 5-0, the Lynx are the only unbeaten team left in the WNBA.
Sylvia Fowles had 20 points and nine rebounds to lead Minnesota. Moore finished with seven points.
Lynetta Kizer scored 12 points for Connecticut (0-4).