Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Rob's WNBA Gamer: Delle Donne at the Finish Helps Washington Stop Atlanta Rally

By Rob Knox @knoxrob1

WASHINGTON – The large whiteboard of the current WNBA standings hanging on the left side of the wall is hard to ignore upon entering the Washington Mystics locker room.

Featuring the logos and records of every team in the league, it’s huge and colorful.

As Mystic players happily headed home following a 78-72 victory over the Atlanta Dream at the Verizon Center Sunday afternoon, the standings showed that they have surged to the top record in the Eastern Conference and second-best mark in the league after their fourth straight triumph at 5-2 overall.

All that counts in this league are victories. It doesn’t matter how they are achieved.

So two months from now, nobody will really remember that the Mystics scored the final seven points of the game in the final 34 seconds from the foul line after watching their 18-point second half lead vanish.

Fortunately for Washington, it had Elena Delle Donne, who prevented a nightmare finish after a dream beginning for the Mystics.

The former Delaware standout posted her second straight double-double with 23 points and a career high 15 rebounds. Delle Donne had a strange game in which she made her first six shots before missing her final eight attempts. She was 10-for-12 from the foul line as she posted her fourth 20-point game this season.

“It’s huge (to win these close games) so we can stop having these heart attacks,” Delle Donne said. “You know last second, last possession games. We’re doing some really great things. We’re just not closing out quarters. I just feel like we just need to continue doing what we’re doing and stay consistent.”

In addition to Delle Donne, the balanced Mystics, who played with eight players, got 15 points from Kristi Toliver, 13 points and lots of energy from Tianna Hawkins and 11 points from Tierra Ruffin-Pratt. They all made significant contributions down the stretch to help the home team.

Even more encouraging for the championship-minded Mystics is they found a way to earn a win while missing three key players including Tayler Hill (neck/shoulder injury), Natasha Cloud (strained left knee) and Asia Taylor.

After Atlanta took its only lead of the game at 72-71 on Layshia Clarendon's feed to Sancho Lyttle with 43.7 seconds left, Delle Donne responded by being fouled while attempting a three-pointer. She sank all three of her attempts with 34.5 seconds remaining.

On the Dream’s next possession, the Mystics locked down defensively forcing a Bria Holmes missed 3-pointer. Delle Donne grabbed a defensive rebound and added two more free throws to make it 76-71 with 11.9 to play.

Former Maryland star Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who made her first career start, closed it out from the line with 4.1 left.

“It’s great to know that when we are down, we have players who can come in, step up and pick up the slack from what we lose to injuries,” Hawkins said. “That’s really good. The last two or three possessions, we were like we needed defensive stops and we got them. We learned that we are capable of getting important stops down the stretch and more importantly when we need them.”

One reason why the Mystics’ advantage evaporated was because of the determined and relentless Tiffany Hayes, who scored a game best 24 points. Hayes, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month, has scored in double figures in every game this season.

Holmes added 13 points and Lyttle reached double figures in scoring for the third straight game with 10 points.

“Atlanta is too good of a team to not get back in the game, said Washington head coach Mike Thibault after earning his 275th career victory. We had them on the brink of folding and we had two or three really casual possessions on both ends in the middle of the third quarter, and we let them right back in the game.

“It’s hard, we had eight players. We had tired legs shooting the ball down the stretch. It’s really nice to have one of the best players in the league going down the stretch. I thought we had a lot of great performances defensively at the end. I know it won’t show up in the stats but Krystal [Thomas] and [Delle Donne] length in the lane bothered them at times tonight too.”

Atlanta, which fell to 4-2, got strong performances off the bench from Brittney Sykes and Brianna Kiesel. They combined for 11 points and were key defensively in helping the Dream get back into the game. Fueled by nine consecutive Washington points to begin the second half, the Mystics opened a 50-32 bulge.

Atlanta closed the third quarter on a 21-8 run to close to within, 58-53 entering the fourth quarter. Many thought the Dream would struggle when Angel McCoughtry, the face of the franchise and one of the best players in the world, announced she was taking time off this season.

Instead, the opposite has happened. Atlanta has thrived.

“We like where we are,” Hayes said. “We can't have this one back and we can't have the last loss back, but we know how good of a team we are and I think other teams know it too. A lot of people are scared of us. I think we look good.”

NOTES: The Mystics shot 23-63 (.365) from the field and 6-20 (.300) from 3-point range … Atlanta shot 28-79 (.354) from the field and 1-15 (.067) from behind the arc … The Mystics outrebounded the Dream, 46-39. Each team recorded 16 assists … Toliver scored the Mystics’ first nine points, converting on all three of her 3-point attempts in the game’s first 2:56 … Clarendon has dished out at least five assists in five straight games … The only team with a better record than Washington are the undefeated Minnesota Lynx (7-0).

NEXT GAMES: Washington travels to Dallas on Tuesday (ESPN2, 8 p.m.). The Dream continue its five-game road trip at New York Wednesday (NBA-TV, 11 a.m.).


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