Throughout training camp, Mystics head coach Mike Thibault hinted that third-year player Myisha Hines-Allen would have a bigger role in such a unique season.
One day it was her being a point-forward, another day he highlighted her versatility with an inside and outside game. On multiple occasions, Thibault even compared her to his team's version of Draymond Green.
What did that translate into for an actual game?
A monster 27-point season-opening performance by the 6-foot-1 wing. Hines-Allen powered what was supposed to be a short-staffed Mystics squad to a statement 101-76 win over the Indiana Fever.
"I'm expecting her to play really well," Thibault told reporters postgame. "This was a great opportunity for her to make a statement about her game and where she is and how she can help this team. And she's obviously lived up to it."
For the past two seasons, Hines-Allen has been buried down the depth chart. Not because of her talent, but merely the talent ahead of her in Elena Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman. Hines-Allen showed some promise in short spurts in her first two seasons, no one expected this explosion. With so few minutes to go around, it was really difficult for her to prove herself on a roster with so much talent and little opportunities.
With Saturday's opener being only the second start of the Louisville product's career, she quickly took advantage of it.
By the end of the first quarter, Hines-Allen had already surpassed her career-high of 15 points. She nailed all three of her 3-point attempts to reach 16 points and had a step-back buzzer-beater to close the frame.
ICYMI: Myisha Hines-Allen had 14 pts. AFTER 1 QUARTER.
⬇️ having fun with it pic.twitter.com/uSMO8G9zj6
— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) July 25, 2020
The 24-year-old was in her element and seemingly couldn't miss at times. Shots came from all areas of the floor for her and on defense, her strength and power were more than formidable to defend in the paint against Indiana's forwards.
"[I was seeing] whatever I wanted," Hines-Allen told reporters postgame.
That quick explosion was the virtue of her having several people in her corner. Before the game, LaToya Sanders, who opted out this season, texted Hines-Allen support and gave her some pointers on how to defend Indiana. All training camp her team has given Hines-Allen the confidence to lead her to this point - from Thibault down to her teammates that have been with her over her career.
Of course, that early burst did take its toll on the forward. It was the first game of the season after a long break from competitive action. The amount of energy that she had exerted in the opening moments was evident midway through the quarter when she was winded, hands on her knees and Thibault had no choice but to take her out for a quick breather.
"I was kind of kidding her on the way out, I said 'well all the stuff we're talking about conditioning, you realize how much that means to you when you want to play a lot more minutes then you have to get in better shape to play those long minutes,'" Thibault said. "She hasn't played those kind of long minutes in a lot of months."
Until that point, Hines-Allen had done a little bit of everything. She took the rock coast-to-coast, she backed it down on the 6-foot-3 Natalie Achonwa in the post. She drove to the paint and converted on some tough shots down low. Her 10 boards led the team. A first-time viewer of this team would have thought that she was the focal point of the Mystics.
That is how dominant Hines-Allen was for the Mystics first game in the Bradenton, Fla bubble. There will be no question on who will be the complementary piece beside Meesseman if they can get even just a fraction of that performance every night.
The rest of the team surely did its part to help as Indiana struggled to keep pace. At the half, Washington had a 62-35 lead while shooting 72% from the floor.
Every player will need to step up in some manner with the absence of Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, LaToya Sanders and Tina Charles. There are just so many absences that someone has to fill the void. While many outside the Mystics organization didn't expect this incredible outing, Hines-Allen did.
She is making most of her opportunity during the 2020 season and there is more to come.
"It's like all leading up to this point right now where I've worked so hard for it," Hines-Allen said. "I think that's the biggest thing, if I had been mad and angry those two years that I wasn't playing when we have great players in front of me playing, then this moment right here wouldn't have mattered to me at all."
"This is a great feeling, I would be lying if I told you that I wasn't like shocked, surprised, not of that. I'm super happy with myself and how I played, but I wouldn't be able to do what I was doing if it wasn't for my teammates, that support."
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