The Washington Mystics are known throughout the WNBA as a high-powered offensive machine, but on Wednesday, the league recognized the team’s stifling defense by naming Mystics guards Ariel Atkins and Natasha Cloud to the league’s All-Defensive second team.
Head coach Mike Thibault appreciates the honor, but he also believed Cloud deserved to be on the first team and Mystics center LaToya Sanders should’ve been first team, too.
“I wish [WNBA] didn’t pick it just by position. If they’d done just the 10 best defensive players, you would put LaToya in there,” he said after practice Wednesday in southeast D.C. “People don’t think of us as a defensive team. We’ve won a lot of game because our defense has been good.”
Cloud, who usually guards the opponent’s best offensive player, didn’t mince words about her second-team designation and her team not receiving respect for its defensive prowess.
“Me guarding the best player is the biggest campaign I can do,” she said. “I think of myself as one of the best defensive players. LaToya got snubbed as well. It’s a constant snub of us here in D.C. What teams are you going to find that guard the best players?”
Some of the statistics back up their point. The Mystics allowed less than 12 points per game on turnovers, the lowest amount in the league.
Washington ranked second in team blocks at about five per game behind the Atlanta Dream.
The Mystics’ average win margin of nearly 20 points per game allowed starters to rest in the fourth quarter.
All-Star guard Kristi Toliver, who missed the last 11 games of the regular season with an injured right knee, practiced Wednesday.
Because the Mystics garnered the top seed and don’t play a semifinal game until Tuesday in the District, Toliver and other players will get more than a week to recuperate from the regular season.
“I’m trying my best to hold it down for her. We are happy to have her back,” Cloud said about Toliver’s return. “Minutes are going to go down with Kristi back, but everyone is generally happy to have her back.”
The team continues to focus on its “run it back” motto, which started after being swept 3-0 in last year’s Finals against the Seattle Storm.
Washington won’t know its opponent until after Sunday’s second round single-elimination games.
“We’re excited about how the regular season ended, but now it’s time for a new season,” Atkins said. “It’s zero-zero here on out.”
Thibault garnered 12 second-place votes for Coach of the Year. Thibault received the award in 2013 for the Mystics and twice as coach for the Connecticut Sun in 2006 and 2008.
Chicago Sky head coach James Wade won the award this year leading the Sky to the playoffs with a 20-14 record. It also became the first time a Sky head coach received that honor in the team’s 14-year history.
However, Associated Press did name Thibault as head coach of the year honor and Elena Delle Donne as the league’s top player.
“I worked really hard. You look back at the journey, especially with the knee injury and being able to bounce back,” Delle Donne said. “Thank my teammates. There’s no way I would be here without them. It’s great, but now we all focus on the playoffs.”