Johnson’s fairytale performance beats Dream’s dynamic duo
One streak was going to end in Wednesday’s matchup between the the Washington Mystics and the Atlanta Dream. In a close game, the former were able to finally snap their losing streak at 7, while the latter recorded their 9th consecutive loss. Courtney Williams and Betnijah Laney did everything they possibly could to get their team back to winning ways: The veteran point guard Williams scored 30 points, pulled down 8 boards and dished out 7 assists as well. The defensive specialist turned scorer Laney finished the game with a new career-high of 35 points and added 5 rebounds as well as 6 assists to the statsheet. All that doesn’t matter, though, as the Mystics got help from an unexpected source.
Stella Johnson was calm and composed in her post-game interview, but the rookie guard must have been overflowing with happiness after a huge performance in her first career start. Her story is all but inspirational: She was unranked coming out of highschool, before being recruited by Rider University, whose women’s basketball team had never made it to the NCAA tournament. Johnson was the nation’s leading scorer in her senior year and the only active Division I player to record 2,000 points, 700 rebounds, 400 assists and 300 steals. In the 2020 WNBA Draft, she fell to the third round, though, picked at #29 by the Phoenix Mercury, who’d eventually waive her before the season. She then got picked up by the Chicago Sky, but would only make 4 appearances (6 minutes). The depleted Washington Mystics signed her off waiver to replace Aerial Powers. After a good performance against the Las Vegas Aces, Johnson was given head coach Mike Thbault’s trust and put in the starting lineup – and she delivered. Johnson knocked down 6 of her 9 tries from behind the arc (8/13 FG) for 25 points. Besides her scoring, she also helped the team with 3 rebounds and assists as well as 1 steal. The Mystics might have gotten themselves a valuable contributor going forward, but definitely a promising young talent for the franchise’s future. Let’s see if Johnson can build on her great performance.
The key to Washington’s success was the same as it had been in their first 3 games (and wins) of the season: excellent ball movement and an efficient offense. Emma Meesseman excelled as point center once more; the Belgian scored 12 points herself, while handing out 10 assists and corralling 6 rebounds. Myisha Hines-Allen had her second 20+ point game of the season, her efficiency was remarkabe (10/14 FG, 3/5 3pt). Washington’s field goal percentage inside the three-point line was a difference maker: They converted 23 of 36 tries for 2 points, while lighting it up from downtown as well, pulling the trigger 34 times (12 makes). Atlanta shot the ball even better, knocking down 55.1% of their shots (8/18 from long range). Courtney Williams was knocking down midrange jumpers left, middle and right, making it look easy, while Laney constantly attacked the rim. Monique Billings had herself a double-double (10 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists) and worked extremely hard on both ends of the floor. Atlanta’s bench production (and minutes) was non-existent, as their lack of depth came back to haunt them – Williams and Laney each played 37+ minutes and looked fatigued down the stretch.
Although the Mystics almost lead for the entirety of the game, the Dream always fought back from being down double digits, trying to stay in the game until the end. They had a chance to cut the lead to a single possession late in the fourth, but they gave the ball away carelessly. Washington would prevail at the free throw line, securing a vital win in their fight back towards a playoff spot.
Lynx win three-point shootout between Gray and Dangerfield
Allisha Gray and Crystal Dangerfield put on a show from behind the arc in Wednesday’s clash between the Dallas Wings and the Minnesota Lynx. Both shot 5/7 from long range and put up a game-high 22 and 21 points respectively. The rookie would have the better end for herself and her team, though, as the Lynx lit it up from three in the fourth to turn the game around. Minnesota improves to 8–3, while Dallas falls to 4–8 on the season.
The Wings got off to the better start: Gray splashed in 4 threes in the first half to provide her team with vital scoring. Minnesota trailed 16–24 after the first quarter, but they’d slowly work their way into the game. Dangerfield sparked an 11–2 Minnesota run with 3 three-pointers to put her team in the lead. Marina Mabrey, who started again, was very productive again and did all sorts of things for the Wings: She scored 16 points (5/10 FG, 2/4 3pt), grabbed 4 boards and set up her team mates 5 times as well. Dallas retook the lead before halftime and held onto it this time, going into the break up 43–39. Arike Ogunbowale struggled from the floor, only going 2/10 in the first half, but Gray and company picked up the slack for the league’s leading scorer.
Dallas started the second half on a 16–5 run, in which Gray played a crucial part again. She intercepted a pass and got an easy 2 on the break and knocked down a three a couple minutes later to give Dallas a 15-point lead (59–44). The Linx picked up their defensive intensity at the end of the third period, though. Napheesa Collier cut the lead to single digits with a three-pointer. The bench unit was vital in Minnesota’s comeback efforts: Shenise Johnson, Kayla Alexander and especially Mikiah „Kiki“ Herbert-Harrigan all played great minutes off the bench. Herbert-Harrigan scored 10 points on 4/7 shooting (2/4 3pt) and was +27 in her 20 minutes of action – usually not the most meaningful stat, but significant nontheless as no other player came even remotely close to that number (Dangerfield +10). The Lynx went absolute bonkers from downtown in the closing minutes: Collier splashed all 3 of her tries from long distance, Dangerfield knocked down a few more as well. As a team, they shot 14/23 from behind the arc – a recipe for success if you defend like they did. They increased their pressure on the ball, they were cutting off Dallas‘ drives and forcing tough shots. They outscored the Wings 30–19 in the fourth quarter to retake the lead and run away with the game. Bridget Carleton put her team up by 10 on a backdoor cut to put the nail in the Wings‘ coffin.
Minnesota remains a top team in the #Wubble despite Sylvia Fowles‘ absence. They’re tied for the second-best record in the league, their veterans are producing, their young players are developing and their rookies look more and more comfortable, growing into their roles. Dangerfield put on a show with her moves, her hesitation move is a lethal skill that she uses to her advantage like an experienced vet. Herbert-Harrigan is looking much more confident with every game she plays. The present and the future are bright in Minnesota. The Wings on the other hand will look to get their missing starters back as quickly as possible. While Gray is performing well with Satou Sabally, Astou Ndour and Moriah Jefferson all sidelined by injuries, the bench is lacking firepower and can’t support the starters adequately.
Sparks glow hotter than Mercury
The Los Angeles Sparks picked up their fifth straight win in the #Wubble, beating the Phoenix Mercury thanks to a hot start and a strong finish to the game. Candace Parker’s sole 3 field goals all came in the first quarter, in which the Sparks outscored the Mercury 24–10. Their defense was almost impeccable again: Midway through the second, Phoenix had as many made field goals as turnovers commited (12). The teams headed into the break at 42–26.
Head coach Derek Fisher’s team was able to maintain its lead during the third quarter, mainly because Phoenix‘ Diana Taurasi was struggling to get her shot to fall. She only had 4 points after 30 minutes, as the Sparks were able to contain her offensive output. But you don’t become the / a GOAT for nothing. The veteran guard would heat up in the final period and knock down 4 three-pointers in a short timespan to cut the deficit. Bria Hartley made a strong impact off the bench once again. Together, they brought the Mercury back to within 2 at 71–69 Sparks. Brittney Sykes was able to score some vital points for Los Angeles, though, who didn’t allow Phoenix to tie the game or even get the lead. In the end, they were able to pull ahead again and improved to 8–3 on the season. The Mercury have to pick up the pace again (and improve defensively) to keep up with the top teams, as they are now sitting at .500 (6–6).