July 22, 2024
Caitlin Clark

Caitlin Clark was among the Fever's quartet of high draft picks that proved too much for the Mystics on Wednesday. (Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS — Washington Mystics Coach Eric Thibault was quick to remind everyone that they shouldn’t be fooled by the Indiana Fever’s record or its slow start to the season. Caitlin Clark may be among the most hyped athletes in the country, but Thibault knows there’s more to that team than the NCAA Division I’s all-time leading scorer.

Clark is just the latest No. 1 pick on the Fever’s roster. She joined former South Carolina star Aliyah Boston from 2023, and that pair joined No. 2 picks NaLyssa Smith and Kelsey Mitchell. That quartet combined for 73 points as the Fever defeated the Mystics, 88-81, before a capacity crowd of 17,274 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

After an 0-5 start, the Fever has won three straight and five of seven, improving to 6-10. The Mystics (2-13), who endured an 0-12 start, had their two-game winning streak end.
“Definitely time [together helps],” Clark said before the game. “You can even see me and Aliyah just having a better connection, reading where each other’s going to be, reading each other’s eyes a little bit better.

“It’s just the connection. You build that through playing together. … Everybody can kind of see the improvement.”

The Mystics’ progress has been slowed by injuries, with two of their biggest contributors missing extended time. Brittney Sykes (left foot sprain) missed her 12th game, and Shakira Austin (hip) missed her ninth. Their absences are felt especially on offense, where Ariel Atkins (27 points) and Karlie Samuelson (16 points) could have used help beyond the 14 points Stefanie Dolson contributed (including four three-pointers).

Atkins has been on a tear in the past three games, averaging 24.7 points, and now ranks fourth in franchise history with 450 assists.

“That’s the key — not to force it,” Atkins said. “To make all of our lives easier, I have to be aggressive. Also with [Sykes] being out, we need to attack the rim a little more. Just trying to put pressure on the rim, open up stuff for us.”

Washington kept the Fever’s lead to single digits most of the night until a 12-3 fourth-quarter run built an 11-point advantage. The Mystics never got closer than five the rest of the way.

Clark scored a career-high 30 points in the first meeting between the teams but put together a more all-around game this time with 18 points, a career-high 12 rebounds, six assists and four steals to go with six turnovers. Boston set the tone early and finished with 22 points and eight rebounds while Mitchell dropped 22 on 8-for-11 shooting, including four three-pointers. Smith added 11 points and seven rebounds.
“We chased shooters hard and maybe didn’t guard the ball well enough,” Thibault said. “First half, in particular, we gave up a lot of straight-line drives because we were so busy chasing shooters around off the ball. That’s tough because you have to give respect to those shooters, but I don’t think we did a good job just with our one-on-one defense.”

Those are high-level scorers, and the Mystics helped them out with some freebies. Committing 11 turnovers isn’t demoralizing, but the Fever went the other way and scored 20 points off them, compared with just 10 points off turnovers for the Mystics. That differential matters in a seven-point loss. Adding to the Mystics’ issues was a propensity for fouling, and the Fever went 18 for 23 from the line.

“Some of the turnovers were basically outlets for a fast-break layup,” Samuelson said. “Can’t have a live turnover at the top of the key.”

Washington has two more meetings with the Fever. On Wednesday, the Mystics announced their season-ending game against Indiana on Sept. 19 will be played at Capital One Arena. The first meeting was also held there and sold out with 20,333 in attendance, making it the fifth-best-attended regular season game in WNBA history.

The Mystics return home for a back-to-back against the Dallas Wings on Saturday and Sunday.

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