Indy 2, D.C. zippy in playoff basketball for the year 2014.
Even though they were swept, the Mystics didn't go out without a fight, and making some highlights of their own. This past Thursday in Game 1 of the series, they lost 78-73 on the road. Despite that loss, their starting point guard, Ivory Latta scored 22 points, 18 of them off of six three pointers. She even made this anklebreaking crossover on Fever guard Briann January which should make any basketball fan smile:
And so you know, January's no scrub on defense. She made the All-WNBA Defensive First Team this season.
Then on Saturday for Game 2, the Mystics lost once again, 81-76, in overtime. In this game, Indiana's defense basically took the Mystics' starters out of the game, since no one besides Latta was able to score in double figures. Even then, she scored her 12 points on 2-of-13 shooting from the field.
Sophomore forward Emma Meesseman also had an off shooting night, where she only score 8 points on 3-of-9 shooting. But she did have 10 rebounds. One of them was an offensive rebound that she just snatched away from Fever post Erlana Larkins, who is much bigger than her. This happened with 40 seconds left in regulation. Overall, Meesseman had a solid defensive performance, but one thing that bothers me about her game or her mentality is that she doesn't seem to be aggressive enough.
The Mystics players who stuck out the most in a good way in Game 2 were Kara Lawson, who scored 20 points off the bench. Her play overall kept this team in the game when it seemed that the Mystics were already ready to call it a season. Then, Meesseman's backup, sophomore forward Tianna Hawkins scored 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting while only playing 16 minutes off the bench.
Yes, it was nice to see that some Wizards players were there:
Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) August 23, 2014
But ultimately, that doesn't take the sting off a Mystics playoff loss which also ended their season.
If there's one thing that the Mystics lacked, it was a superstar player. This is something I have noted many times, at the other place I write.
The X-Factor in this playoff series was Fever forward Tamika Catchings, who scored at least 22 points and grabbed at least 10 rebounds each in both playoff games. Catchings also just happens to be the 2012 WNBA Finals MVP when Indiana won the championship, the 2011 WNBA MVP, five-time WNBA Defensive Player of the year, and a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist for the USA Basketball women's national team. Even though Catchings is 35 years old and a lock to make the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, she is still playing at a really high level.
But at the same time, let's take a step back and realize that the Mystics under General Manager and Head Coach Mike Thibault's leadership have gone through a lot of change and adversity since he took over in December 2012.
Before he was hired, the Mystics went a league-worst 5-29 campaign in 2012 with a mostly veteran lineup. After the season concluded, Washington failed to win one of the Top 3 picks in the 2013 WNBA Draft, who ended up being Brittney Griner, Elena Delle Donne, and Skylar Diggins. All three are some of the best young players in the league.
The 2013 Mystics team made some major steps to become younger. It had four rookies, but the 2012 core of Crystal Langhorne, Matee Ajavon, and Monique Currie remained. They went 17-17 in the regular season, which helped Thibault win the WNBA Coach of the Year Award. They ultimately lost in the first round of the WNBA Playoffs to the Atlanta Dream, 2-1.
Yes, the 2014 team finished worse in the regular season with a 16-18 record, and they were swept in the WNBA Playoffs. However, this team was considerably younger than the 2013 team, after Langhorne and Ajavon were traded away to other teams in exchange for other players who were better long term fits. And in Langhorne's case she was dealt to the Seattle Storm for Hawkins and rookie guard Bria Hartley. Hartley started most of the season and figures to be a long term fit in the backcourt for years to come.
Therefore, even though the Mystics' 2014 record was worse, youth needs to be taken into account. And once you do, it is clear that this team is headed for a brighter future.
So congratulations to the Indiana Fever for winning this series, and for making a fourth straight Eastern Conference Finals.
But most of all, congratulations to the Washington Mystics for their successful 2014 season with their young roster. Here's to hoping that they can make the necessary moves to become a long-time contender real soon.
For more information on the Washington Mystics, and the WNBA Playoffs, please check out SB Nation's Swish Appeal.