Last year, the Mystics were swept by the then two-time reigning Eastern Conference champs, the Atlanta Dream, 4-0.
They lost the two games in Atlanta by 23 and 25 points, respectively. They lost the two in D.C. by 12 and 8.
So Washington’s 73-63 loss to the Dream (3-0) Sunday afternoon in their home opener at Verizon Center was neither a step forward nor a step backwards. They were right on par with the Mystics of 2012, at least against this one opponent.
But it is obviously very early, and just as there were no celebrations when Washington started 2013 off with a win, there is no panic now that they have fallen to 1-1.
“I knew when I took this [job] it wasn’t going to be a miracle overnight,” Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said after the loss.
The Mystics (1-1) lost the lead for good at 6:56 remaining in the first. They went on a good run in the second quarter led by Ivory Latta and rookie Emma Meesseman, who scored her first eight WNBA points in the contest. They also had a good stretch in the third, led by Crystal Langhorne, that got the D.C. crowd pumped up for the forward who has spent the past eight years of her basketball career in the nation’s capital (if you count her college years at the University of Maryland).
However, the Mystics failed to get within one possession of the Dream in either of those quarters and trailed by at least eight throughout the fourth.
Atlanta was led by reigning scoring champion Angel McCoughtry with 15 points, but she had help from Erika de Souza, Sancho Lyttle, Armintie Herrington and Tiffany Hayes, who were also in double figures. The Mystics didn’t let McCoughtry get anything easy in the first half, sending her to the line twice, where she scored her only three points of the half. However, Herrington and Hayes held things down with nine points apiece before the break and Angel was able to make some key shots down the stretch to help put the Mystics away.
“They’re very physical,” McCoughtry said of Washington, though she doesn’t want to focus on the idea of there potentially being a target on her back this year. “I can feel the bumps and bruises right now. But just one of those things you have to play through and show some toughness.”
“I thought we did a good job on [McCoughtry],” Thibault said. “But at the same time I felt like in facing a team that is a driving team like they are you have to build a wall in the lane and I just don’t think we did a good enough job of that. We seemed to get it a little bit when she had the ball, but I don’t know if we got it when some of their other players had the ball.”
“I think balanced scoring has been working for us the past three games we’ve played,” Dream head coach Fred Williams said when asked about the other players who stepped up besides Angel. “That’s what teams have to have in this league now is balanced scoring and defensive players coming in to get steals for you and making plays.”
Langhorne and Latta were the only Mystics in double figures scoring with 15 and 14 respectively. Both were the leading scorers on their teams last year and seem like they could be a good dynamic duo on the Mystics this year.
“There’s great chemistry,” Latta said of her and Langhorne. “At the beginning of the second half, I looked at [Crystal] and said ‘we got to get you going – some way or another I got to find a way to get you the ball.’ And when we did that, everything started moving, other people started scoring and she started getting her jump shots from where she usually makes them. And I don’t mind passing the ball if I have to, just to keep everybody involved.”
Next up for the Mystics is a trip to Connecticut to face Thibault’s former team on Friday at 7 p.m. ET. Just like with Atlanta, the Mystics will have a chance to prove themselves against a good team and they will have a third chance on Saturday when they host the Lynx. But, as Thibault said, they know greatness won’t be achieved all at once.
“We can only get better,” Latta said. “And that’s going to come with time. Everybody in here is new. You only see maybe two or three returners who came back from last year. But we’re not going to make excuses. We have to do what coach wants us to do and stick with the game plan.”
Langhorne is one of those returners and, even in a loss, she felt good being back at Verizon after a draft lottery that had many people questioning the direction Washington would take with their core players from 2012.
“I’m so happy to be back,” said Langhorne, who was around when the Mystics were the No. 1 seed in the East not too long ago. “I want this year to be different.”