This Mystics staff had flaws, however it additionally affords loads of promise


SEATTLE — After her comeback season ended, Elena Delle Donne went rapidly from disenchanted to congratulatory. She took her arms off her knees, stood upright and approached the 4 perennial all-stars on the opposing squad, one after the other. She hugged Seattle Storm ahead Breanna Stewart, then Sue Hen, Tina Charles and Jewell Loyd earlier than greeting everybody else within the handshake line.

Delle Donne selected to not keep frozen within the second, even after lacking almost two full seasons with excruciating again issues. For as a lot as she reestablished this season — for as a lot because the Washington Mystics reset themselves after two shedding seasons whereas lacking a number of key gamers — she wished to maneuver ahead. And for the primary time in two years, she will strategy an offseason with out extreme warning about taking one other step.

The Mystics ran out of choices Sunday afternoon at Local weather Pledge Enviornment throughout a 97-84 loss to the Seattle Storm. However as their 2022 marketing campaign concluded, it didn’t really feel like they have been out of hope. They’re carried out, for now, shedding a first-round playoff collection that was nearer and extra tense than a two-game sweep will point out. Within the massive image, nonetheless, they might have restored a run of high-level rivalry that accidents, roster shuffling and unhealthy luck had derailed.

The Mystics aren’t caught up to now anymore — the nice and the unhealthy of it. They’re not merely making an attempt to get again to their championship glory of 2019. They usually’re not making an attempt to heal from the injuries of the previous two years. They’re shifting ahead, proper there with Delle Donne, lastly capable of envision a future once more.

“We fought,” guard Ariel Atkins mentioned of the season. “I still think we got better. I’m proud of the trajectory of our team. I’m very proud of the foundation we have here in the Mystics organization.”

Level guard Natasha Cloud, as solely she will, articulated the franchise’s path with the utmost depth.

“I’m tired of talking about past years,” mentioned Cloud, who led the Mystics with 21 factors to go along with six rebounds and 5 assists Sunday. “I’m tired of talking about 2018, 2019. It’s 2022, and we just lost in the first round. We’re going to be better. That I can promise you. We’re going to be better.”

It’s an enormous deal that the Mystics can deal with enchancment with out crossing their fingers. A yr in the past, they completed 12-20 throughout a season wherein Delle Donne and Alysha Clark barely took the ground, and at one level, they’d simply six gamers accessible. In 2020, when the covid-19 pandemic compelled the complete WNBA season to be held in a Florida bubble, Delle Donne, Cloud and Charles, then the Mystics’ prized free agent acquisition, didn’t play. Charles lasted two seasons in Washington and didn’t get any run with a wholesome Delle Donne, who performed simply three video games throughout that span.

This season was extra prefer it. Delle Donne performed 25 of 36 common season video games and was accessible and thriving down the power. The roster was completely different, and a staff as soon as blessed with distinctive ability is now a prime defensive squad that has frequent bouts of offensive problem. For all their resolve and defensive would possibly, the Mystics labored on the opposite finish and couldn’t match the Storm, which shot 55.6 % from the sector and made 12 of 23 three-pointers.

Washington hit 14 of 27 three-pointers, however in a fast-paced recreation, it wasn’t versatile sufficient on offense to make the most of the way in which Seattle defended. The Storm modified its defensive philosophy from Recreation 1, when Delle Donne scored 26 factors. Seattle switched lots on protection to provide her a special look on the perimeter, after which it got here with aggressive double groups when she was nearer to the basket. It targeted on preserving Cloud from getting downhill and attacking the basket. The trade-off was that Cloud made 5 of 8 three-pointers to guide the Mystics’ good perimeter capturing. However for in addition to they shot from deep, the offense general was disjointed and couldn’t preserve tempo with the balanced Storm, whose 5 starters scored between 12 and 21 factors.

Typically you’ve gotten to have the ability to win a shootout. With their season on the road, the Mystics didn’t have the firepower. For as soon as, their league-best protection didn’t have it, and so they had no different option to win.

“If I had the answers, I would have fixed it for this team,” Delle Donne lamented.

Mentioned Hen: “We made it hard enough. It wasn’t an easy game, but we made just enough plays.”

In just a few days, when the Mystics are capable of look again on the complete season, they’ll have a look at their offense as the realm that should enhance for them to turn into a championship-caliber staff once more. They managed a No. 5 seed with the imbalance, however with continuity and the best roster tweaks, it’s doable they might be among the many league’s prime three groups subsequent season. It received’t be straightforward, and it requires, a minimum of, the identical availability from Delle Donne. But it surely’s doable.

It has been some time since they might dream about chance.

“We have to have a situation where everybody on the floor is honored by the defense,” Thibault mentioned. “I don’t pretend to have answers for you at this moment. We finished fifth, not first or second.”

He is aware of higher than to suppose in absolutes. With out query, although, the Mystics have greater than prayer to make the most of now. The anticipation to maintain constructing one thing new builds.

“The WNBA offseason, it seems like an eternity,” Thibault mentioned of ready till subsequent yr.

It is going to be a neater wait this time. The Mystics have a clearer sense of what they’re and what they aren’t. On this season of transition, they’ve moved to a significantly better place.

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