In statement win over Liberty, Mystics showcase their up-tempo offense

In statement win over Liberty, Mystics showcase up-tempo offense originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

WASHINGTON -- While others had their doubts, the Washington Mystics were steadfast. Others were hyping up the new-found "super teams" in the WNBA and the Mystics always seemed to be left out of the conversation. Washington didn't care.

But after Friday night there's no one ignoring what's happening in our nation's capital anymore. At the Entertainment and Sports Arena, Washington put a beatdown on one of those so-called super teams, the New York Liberty, with an 80-64 statement victory.

At the centerpiece was the Mystics' different - but not necessarily 'new' - up-tempo offense. It's an offensive approach that thrives off the success of their defense and then getting out and running in the open floor. When they push, sure it leads to fastbreak opportunities (giving Washington a 16-2 transition points edge), but it also gets the offense initated quicker. The opponent is out of position and instead of running plays and getting into their sets, the Mystics get to do what their stars love best: play basketball.

"This what we've been doing in training camp, playing at a very high pace," Elena Delle Donne said postgame. "Our practice guys are just so fast and really good, so they've got us running and we knew that if we can play at the pace we've been playing at it's going to be tough for teams to stay with us. We have so many pieces that we can get going anytime. Defensively if we can show up and be a problem every single night, it keeps you in every game."

Everyone was running circles around the Liberty. Center Shakira Austin had times where she led the break, 36-year-old veteran Kristi Toliver was up front on the push. Natasha Cloud even said in her halftime interview that New York wasn't well conditioned.

They were running a track meet and the Liberty were still trying to get out of the blocks.

It wasn't a game where Delle Donne went off (13 points on 5-for-9 shooting) or Atkins found her stroke from deep (14 points), it was a balanced night. Everyone got their own. Washington dressed 10 players and eight of them scored six points. Four reached double figures.

Adding to their pace, which was dead last in 2022, was one of the focal points entering this season. In Game 1 of the season, Washington had 82 possessions and scored 80 points. That's already three more possessions than last year's average but something that head coach Eric Thibault hopes they can level out in terms of efficiency.

"I think maybe the pace was better than the execution but that's not necessarily to be unexpected on Game 1," Thibault said postgame. "80 points on 82 possessions? That's okay, it's alright... it's a good place to start. I'll take the pace right now, we took care of the ball better than we've been taking care of it in practice and preseason. So a combination of good pace and low turnovers can take you a ways."

A huge part of that success is Brittney Sykes who delivered in a manner that everyone said she would. Sykes' debut was a five-steal outing, which didn't include the numerous deflections she had to thwart New York's halfcourt offense.

In total, she finished just shy of a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds.

"This is exactly why we went after Slim so hard in free agency," Natasha Cloud said. "We knew the type of player that she was, how versatile she was on both ends of the floor and I think you really saw her impact on the defensive end which then translated to what she can do offensively. She's huge for us."

"It's one of those things, it won't show up (in the box score)," Thibault said of Sykes. "Like the deflections she has, she kicked the ball like three times. She just plays at the extension of her body. She gives us a different look. I'm just looking at her stats now, her rebounding helped us get out on the break, five steals."

It all culminated in the declarative win on opening night. There's no reason to make any referendum statements on the first night, but things looks good, real good against an All-Star loaded team. New York only shot 34.3% from the field and 22.6% from deep. Washington forced 13 steals and never allowed the Liberty to get within single digits in the second half.

This win just simply served as a reminder that other teams may have new All-Stars and MVPs, but the Mystics have their own too and they shouldn't be overlooked.

"Keep sleeping, for real," Cloud said. "We're confident with what we have in this locker room. And you'll continue to talk about the superhero teams but we know who we are and we know what we bring every single night. We know what we have in our locker room.

"We are such an unselfish team that we really just enjoy each other and we talk about what the makeup of a championship team is, it is exactly that. We enjoy coming to work every single day, you fight for the person to the left and to the right of you, it's exactly what we have. So we're not going to be perfect, we're going to be [expletive] sure close to it. I'm excited, so keep sleeping on us."