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Liberty suffer first loss of season at the hands of Mystics, 101-72

New York Liberty v Washington Mystics Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

It seemed like everything was going down for the Washington Mystics Saturday. Entering the game, they were shooting a putrid 15.5 percent from three. Well, count tonight as progression to the mean. Washington shot 51.6 percent as a team and ran the New York Liberty out of the gym in the nation’s capital.

This loss halts a brief hot streak for the Liberty team, which started the year 3-0 and were gaining confidence every game.

Tina Charles, who played most of her career in New York, was absolutely on fire all night long against her former team. She had 34 points and 9 rebounds on 12-of-21 shooting from the field, as well as a career-high four made 3-pointers. Kylee Shook kept it short when describing her night:

“I mean, she’s an amazing player as you said. She’s proven herself in the league. So, we know every game she’s gonna come out strong and tonight she just had an amazing game,” sid Shook.

Liberty Head coach Walt Hopkins said postgame that the plan was to let Charles get hers - he knew she’d go off for 30 to 40 points - but limit the other shooters. Rebecca Allen agreed with the strategy, saying “she’s going to hit shots. But part of that was also making sure that the others around her don’t hit all their shots.”

The Mystic shooters were not limited, though. In fact, it turned out to be just the opposite. Every Mystic player who logged at least four minutes nailed a triple. High performers include Ariel Atkins (5-of-7) and 25 points and Shavonte Zelious (4-of-5) and 11.

So, the Liberty focused on protecting the inside and hoping for a poor shooting night as they continuously went under ball screens, even when Washington was hot. I asked Hopkins post game about sticking with his pick-and-roll coverage even when shots were falling on the other end:

“We were playing the regression to the mean. You’ll see us do that a lot. Three games it worked, one game it didn’t. You know, that’s kind of the way the game works,” said Hopkins. “Something that I don’t know that everyone understands is [that] you have to give up something. So, you have to pick the shots [that] you’re willing to give up. If you look at the percentage that most players shoot off the dribble, from three, it’s not high. Some nights you get burned. And we got burned tonight.”

Despite the loss, Betnijah Laney had yet another strong performance with 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, 16 of those points came in the second quarter, when the Liberty fought back from being down double digits to cut it to four points before halftime. It was the first time in franchise history that a player finished with 20 or more points in four straight games.

Postgame, she chalked up her two second half points to the Mystics being “aggressive.”

After starting off what is technically her second WNBA season with a bang, Sabrina Ionescu had a bit of a down night in Washington. The Mystics played aggressive defense against the Liberty guard, forcing her into jump shots. She also had four turnovers.

Rebecca Allen who finished with nine points on 3-of-9 shooting, said post-game that the Liberty needs to be tougher, saying “We have to take this personally.”

“I mean, in general, they were playing a lot more physical than how we were on defense, there was a lot more contact and they play more aggressive. And, ultimately, we needed to do that back. And there was many moments where we didn’t. That’s just the reality. So I mean, it was the defense on Sabrina but as a defense on everyone was just a lot more physical.”

For Charles, it was a revenge game. Talking about the Liberty decision to trade her for draft picks in April 2020, the New York native said, “They fired me on my day off,” adding that gave her “more juice.”

The Liberty will look to bounce back as they face the new-look Chicago Sky on Sunday with a star-studded matchup including Candace Parker. The game is at 1 p.m. and will be broadcast on ESPN.