Mystics shut down Lynx for bounce-back victory


The Minnesota Lynx came to Washington as one of the hottest teams in the WNBA. They had won four of five, notching victories against the league’s top two teams.

In that stretch, they were the second-highest-scoring team in the league. On Sunday, they ran into the WNBA’s No. 1 defense.

The Washington Mystics locked up the Lynx en route to a 70-57 victory to improve to 5-2 in their past seven games.

There’s no reason that we aren’t bringing this type of defensive intensity every single night, especially when on offense we’re still figuring it out,” point guard Natasha Cloud said.

The 57 points were a season low for the Lynx (10-17), who shot 33.3 percent and had 16 turnovers. The Mystics (16-11) scored 17 points off those giveaways.

The Mystics shot just 37.7 percent, but they can survive those kind of outings because of their defense. Elena Delle Donne scored a game-high 21 points to go with 10 rebounds and three assists. Ariel Atkins chipped in 15 points, five rebounds, three steals and two assists. Cloud added seven points, eight assists and six rebounds, and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough had 11 points off the bench.

“It’s been our identity from Day One,” Delle Donne said of the defense. “We’ve added pieces of the puzzle that … are just so good defensively. Coming off [Thursday’s loss at Phoenix], we were frustrated that our defense struggled. It’s all right if our offense struggles, but our defense should always be consistent and it should always be what makes us go. So to bounce back, to play like this was huge for us.”

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Kayla McBride led the Lynx with 16 points; former Mystics player Aerial Powers was held to 11 on 5-for-16 shooting.

We made them have to take tough shots,” Mystics Coach Mike Thibault said. “We were determined to make every shot contested for them.”

Atkins said a game such as Sunday’s is as important for the team mentally as it is in the standings.

As much as it’s us telling other people that we can do it, I think it’s more so for ourselves, telling us that we do know how to regroup,” Atkins said. “We do know how to come back, lock in on certain things and get the job done. So I think it’s kind of a morale and confidence builder for us.”

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The Mystics were coming off a frustrating 80-75 loss to the Mercury in which they were affected by physical play and allowed Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith to combine for 53 points.

Bouncing back from a loss in Phoenix, where we didn’t play the best defense,” Cloud said. “Being able to come home, regroup and we’re tired — we were on the road for almost a week … having to come back, adjust and then still come out and have that attention to detail. [On Saturday], I promise you, when we all came in, we were like, ‘What’s the fine for missing practice?’ Because we’re tired. But to come out to have that type of defensive presence, we’re going to be really good down the stretch if we can keep this consistent.”

The Mystics honored Minnesota’s Sylvia Fowles, who is retiring after the season. The team played a video on the big screen that featured several players and Thibault speaking about their experiences with the 36-year-old star. Afterward, the organization donated a bike to a child in Fowles’s name and gave her a going-away gift. She had nine points and 12 rebounds in 20 minutes.

“We’ve just had a good relationship for years,” said Thibault, who got to know Fowles well through USA Basketball. “Just one of my favorite people in the league — not favorite to play against but favorite people. I won’t miss coaching games against her, but I’ll miss that competitiveness and I’ll miss just seeing her on a regular basis. She lights up a room when she’s around, and I think that’s a great trait.”

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