The WNBA playoffs are in full swing, and the New York Liberty are ready to light it up. At 32-8, the team finished second in the standings and come into the playoffs having gone a league best 18-4 after the All Star break. Their opponent didn’t have the season they wanted, but they’re still incredibly dangerous. The Washington Mystics have fought really hard to make it this far, and are a very strong seed.
Brian Fleurantin: The Mystics have been ransacked by injuries, but still were able to persevere and make it this far. What do you think helped them most to get into the postseason?
Albert Lee: I would say that the Mystics have persevered because of a mix of new additions and long-time veterans taking advantage of expanded roles. Brittney Sykes' addition and Natasha Cloud's continued growth have helped keep the Mystics afloat, especially when Elena Delle Donne, Shakira Austin and Ariel Atkins were out. Sykes is averaging 15.9 points per game and has been a force for Washington defensively as well. Cloud averaged a career-high 12.7 points per game and played extended minutes in 37 appearances this season. Tianna Hawkins has also stepped up in her own right, averaging 8.2 points per game and starting 21 times in all 40 games this season. Cloud and Hawkins have spent a long time with the Mystics, including during their back-to-back WNBA Finals appearances in 2018-19 as well as the 2019 WNBA championship season. Without these three players in particular, Washington may have very well been a lottery team.
BF: Brittney Sykes played all 40 games for the Mystics and it felt like she carried the team for large parts of the season. How do you think she was able to have the success that she had this season?
AL: The Mystics needed a strong defensive player who could provide more offense than Alysha Clark did in her one season. While Clark and Sykes don't play the exact same positions, Sykes is younger and has more offensive instincts than she did. We saw that in full display when the injuries started racking up in Washington.
BF: With Shakira Austin likely out or severely hampered due to her hip injury, how will the Mystics try to make up for her absence?
Losing Austin, possibly for the postseason, hurts. Thankfully, Elena Delle Donne has returned and she will help mitigate the loss of Austin. In addition, Hawkins is still a decent rebounder and she will continue to get significant playing time. Finally, Myisha Hines-Allen is someone who can play the SF-C positions in various situations. She hasn't played at a particularly high level since the 2020 season in Florida, but perhaps she will rise up to the challenge for the next playoff series.
BF: Who do you think will be an X-factor for the Mystics in this matchup?
AL: Elena Delle Donne, and I wouldn't have said she would be an "X Factor" in the preseason because no one can predict injury timing. She has played limited minutes since returning from injury, but in the playoffs, Head Coach Eric Thibault will have to decide whether to go "all in." If so, we may see her make this first round series the most interesting one in the WNBA.
BF: What's one matchup that you think is concerning for the Mystics?
AL: For the Mystics, I will go with the backcourt matchup of Ariel Atkins vs. Sabrina Ionescu. To this point in her career, Atkins has been a consistent All-WNBA Defensive Team presence for Washington. However, she was injured and missed much of this season. Meanwhile for New York, Ionescu is just entering her prime, averaging 17 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. If Ionescu is particularly hot in this playoff series, It will be very tough for Washington to compensate because Atkins is not as strong of an offensive player as Ionescu.
BF: Series prediction
AL: Liberty win in three games.
Many thanks to Albert for taking the time to chat with us. Make sure to follow Bullets Forever and NetsDaily for more coverage of this matchup!