Prior to Saturday’s showdown with the Las Vegas Aces, Washington Mystics head coach Eric Thibault insisted that his team had a great chance for success against the league-leading Aces. The Mystics (16-18), came into the game following a disappointing loss to the Indiana Fever and had the daunting task of facing the Aces’ league-best record of 30-4.
Thibault made good on his prediction as the home team recorded perhaps its biggest win of the year in a 78-62 decision at the sold-out Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast D.C.
“It’s a big win that we needed,” Thibault said. “We needed one. We didn’t want to go to this homestand without taking care of business but as we said in the locker room postgame, stay humble.”
The Aces appeared to be in a good position to continue their mastery over the league. They had added incentive as they had visited the White House the day before, a special honor after their 2022 championship.
But the Mystics, who are fighting for their playoff lives, showed early that they were not intimidated by their talented opponent, led by A’ja Wilson, a strong contender for Player of the Year.
With former league MVP Elena Delle Donne setting the tone early, the Mystics jumped out to an early 13-2 lead before the Aces knew what hit them
Following a timeout, the Aces settled in and countered with a run of their own to get within 19-17 at the end of the first quarter.
With Kelsey Plum doing most of the damage for her team, the Aces closed with a 13-8 second quarter run to take a 30-27 lead to the locker room.
Then with Delle Donne leading the way with her versatile scoring (team-high 21 points), along with some tough defense and scoring support from Ariel Atkins (16 points), Brittney Sykes (14 points, six assists) and Natasha Cloud, the Mystics took a 52-48 advantage into the final stanza.
For the first time since June 22, Thibault had the entire starting lineup available to him for a full 40 minutes. Most importantly, Delle Donne was making her return. It was just her second game of action since July 9 and the first where she could be fully unleashed.
“I think you could just see it,” said Delle Donne, who added seven rebounds and converted on all of her free throw attempts. “We were playing with joy, sharing the ball, trusting in each other and that’s what it can look like.”
By spreading the wealth (22 assists on 28 baskets), with compliments to Cloud, who recorded a game-high nine assists, the Mystics pulled away to an important win.
Six games remain in the regular season. The Mystics are currently tied for sixth place in the standings and will play four of their last games on the road.
On the defensive side, the Mystics held the Aces to their second-lowest scoring output of the season and held Wilson to 14 points. It is important to note that Wilson recently scored a career-high 53 points.
“Our work is not done by any stretch,” Thibault said. “Winning one game with six to go helps, but it doesn’t get you where you want to be. We’re not in the playoffs. We don’t have a certain seed locked up. We haven’t won anything yet. So it’s important to appreciate the win, get a little confidence from it, learn about ourselves and then get on to Tuesday night.”