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Natasha Cloud shakes off the rust as the Mystics put together a more complete game and prevail

The Mystics’ Tina Charles drives to the basket against Minnesota’s Natalie Achonwa on Tuesday night at Entertainment and Sports Arena.
The Mystics’ Tina Charles drives to the basket against Minnesota’s Natalie Achonwa on Tuesday night at Entertainment and Sports Arena. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

To say Natasha Cloud was in a slump wouldn’t exactly be fair. Her shot was off, true, but she was still making an impact on games in various ways. Still, she wasn’t quite the same player who had helped the Washington Mystics to their first WNBA title in 2019.

Needing time to knock off the rust is understandable for a player who opted out of the 2020 season, and Cloud looked like her old self Tuesday as the Mystics scored an 85-81 victory over the Minnesota Lynx at Entertainment and Sports Arena.

“It’s something I’ve been saying the last few days to myself; Brad [Beal] said it going into that last game . . . a good game’s coming for me,” Cloud said. “I’m going to stay the course. I’m going to stay confident. It’s a good day to have a good day. Just speaking it into existence. . . . It also helps that my wife came into town today, so having that stability at home, it is huge for me as well.”

Cloud finished with 11 points as she surpassed 1,000 for her career. She also had eight assists and six steals, the latter a career best and a single-game high in the WNBA this season.

Cloud and Tina Charles had a heart-to-heart last week and decided the team needed to hold a players-only meeting. The Mystics (3-5) had been playing better than they were at the start of the season, but things still weren’t right. The team leaders felt everyone needed to speak up and share their thoughts.

“This team, in 2019, they had a group that was together for like three years,” said Charles, who finished with 31 points and eight rebounds. “So they were able to figure it out and find their foundation. With this team, it’s new individuals here. I feel it’s actually something we should have done probably before the first game . . . just to hear from everybody. I just wanted to make sure there was a sense of urgency because I’m somebody who’s very intense and I want to make sure nobody’s feeling relaxed around me or anything. This is still a season we can get, regardless of the players who are missing.”

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The meeting seemed to work: The Mystics had four players score in double figures, and they pulled away with a dynamic third quarter, a period that recently had been the bane of Coach Mike Thibault’s existence. He could handle cold shooting and a lack of chemistry with a revamped roster. Third-quarter absent-mindedness, however, was beyond frustrating; his team had outscored its opponent in just one third quarter this season entering Tuesday.

Against the Lynx, a 21-2 run gave the Mystics a 68-50 lead they would not surrender. Washington outscored Minnesota 27-18 in the quarter.

Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen finished with 19 points and five rebounds. Ariel Atkins contributed 17 points, four rebounds and three assists.

“I think we were on our own islands — not in a bad way,” said Cloud, who wanted to improve her body language on the court. “This needs to be a player-run team. So, for us, it was we need to sit down, we need to talk about who we are, what’s our identity, who we want to be. Because this complacency thing, and being patient is fine . . . but there needs to be a sense of urgency.”

Napheesa Collier led Minnesota (3-5) with 22 points and nine rebounds. Sylvia Fowles, the 2017 WNBA MVP, scored 15 points and added five rebounds. Layshia Clarendon had 14 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

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The Mystics took a 43-38 lead into halftime after a scrappy opening 20 minutes. The Lynx finished with 21 turnovers, the most by a Washington opponent this season.

“I thought we stayed a little bit more in ourselves offensively,” Thibault said of the third quarter. “And defensively we upped it a notch. I think we made it tough. Even though Sylvia is so strong and physical inside, I thought Tina did a good job of making it hard for her to get those catches. Particularly in the third quarter, we made it tough. We held them under 20 in the third, and that was great.”

Notes: Mystics guard Sydney Wiese missed her second consecutive game with a right ankle sprain. . . .

Former Mystics guard Aerial Powers was in the building with her new team despite being sidelined indefinitely with a left hamstring strain. The Mystics showed a tribute video to Powers, a member of the 2019 championship team, between the first and second quarters.

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