Led by an impressive performance by Emma Meesseman, the Washington Mystics never trailed after the early going in a 77-70 win over the Atlanta Dream on Sunday at McCamish Pavilion.
Atlanta’s offense struggled early and was never able to overcome a lead that settled around 10 points for most of the afternoon.
“I’m still proud of our team,” coach Michael Cooper said. “Washington is a good team, they came with a big lineup. They caused problems with rebounding and like Pat Riley used to say, no rebounding, no ring. Rebounding is a mindset and about being tough.”
The Mystics outrebounded the Dream 47-32. They had five players with at least seven rebounds, including a game-high 15 from Krystal Thomas.
The Dream continued to chip away in the final period but Meesseman’s 30-point effort never let Washington’s lead fall below six points. She shot 14-of-22 from the field and added 10 rebounds for a double-double.
“Meesseman is a tough one-on-one guard and I thought we didn’t get our double-team fast enough,” Cooper said. “When you let her move around and let her hook you, it’s kind of tough. When they hook you, there’s nothing else you can do.”
Kristi Toliver added 19 points on five 3-pointers.
Elizabeth Williams led the Dream with 18 points, while Brittney Sykes added 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Layshia Clarendon finished with 11 points and 10 assists. She now holds the team record for most assists in a season.
“This was a game that we thought we could definitely win, but they’re a really good team,” Clarendon said. “But our defense has to be better. We can put up points, but until we stop letting people score, it’s going to be hard to win some games. We’ve got to start digging in and crashing the boards. It’s a team effort.”
The Mystics jumped out to a 13-4 lead in the first five minutes thanks to a 9-0 run in which Toliver knocked down two 3-pointers. Atlanta fought back to cut the lead to 20-16 with 30 seconds left, but Washington’s Elena Delle Donne hit two layups in the final seconds to take a 24-16 lead into the second quarter.
Atlanta shot just 33 percent in the opening period, while the Mystics shot 53 percent. The Dream didn’t turn the ball over once, which helped keep them within striking distance despite the offense struggling to play in transition to get easy shots.
Washington opened a 16-point lead late in the second quarter. Led by Meesseman and Toliver with 14 points each, the Mystics shot 44 percent and led 44-29 going into halftime. Toliver added two more 3-pointers in the second quarter, giving her all four of Washington’s makes from beyond the arc.
After a clean first quarter taking care of the ball, the Dream turned it over five times in the second quarter and made just five shots from the field. The Dream shot 32 percent in the first half and failed to make a 3-pointer.
In the third quarter, Atlanta finally got its offense clicking, cutting the lead to as few as eight at one point. Still, the Mystics continued to rely on Meesseman down low to pull their offense out of any lulls. The Dream shot 63 percent and scored 27 points in the period, which was just two less than they scored in the first half. Washington took a 68-56 lead into the final quarter.
“I think the ball was sticking a lot today,” Clarendon said about the first-half struggles. “We’ve got to swing the ball and move it, and I think that’s what you saw in the third quarter. We started to get more movement, and the defense couldn’t just pack it in. So, more ball movement and let the ball find the shot.”
The Dream now move to 10-13 after back-to-back losses. They will travel to Minnesota to face the Lynx on Thursday night.