Resilience, Heart Fuel Mystics
Washington off to an impressive 2-0 start.
by Ben York / @bjyork
It’s probably no secret by now that I’m a Suns fan; I grew up in Phoenix and to this day still bleed purple and orange. They were, essentially, the only team worth rooting for in Arizona in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Not surprisingly, my mood is still affected by the Suns on a daily basis (thankfully, they’ve been pretty good over the past 25-30 years).
Prior to the start of the ‘05-06 season, the Suns were predicted to be one of the few teams that could legitimately compete for a title. Steve Nash was just coming off an MVP season in ‘04-05, Amar’e Stoudemire had emerged as a superstar, and they added enough pieces (even with the loss of Joe Johnson) under the “7 Seconds or Less” offensive system to make some noise in the League.
That was, of course, until Amare Stoudemire underwent microfracture surgery on October 18, 2005 to repair damaged knee cartilage. Almost everyone, including myself, wrote the Suns off and didn’t give them much of a chance to do anything. To my delight, the Suns proved me wrong; they finished the season with a 54-28 record, won their division title, and eventually made it to the Western Conference Finals. Nobody expected them to make that much of an impact, but they rallied around their perceived adversity through a united belief in the collective whole.
The Washington Mystics faced a similar devastating realization just a few weeks back when superstar Alana Beard announced she would miss the entire 2010 season with an ankle injury. Beard is the quintessential leader and motor for the Mystics team, so missing her ability on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor is demoralizing. Washington was poised to be a contender in the Eastern Conference in 2010 especially with the addition of star Katie Smith and the emergence of Monique Currie and Crystal Langhorne. In fact, in my WNBA Preview for SLAM Magazine (on sale now), I actually ended up rewriting it to change my prediction from the Mystics making the Eastern Conference Finals to missing the Playoffs altogether.
Just two games in to the 2010 WNBA season, I quickly realized I couldn’t have been more wrong – and I’m man enough to admit it.
Washington opened the season with a tough back-to-back set on the road against the reigning Eastern Conference Champions (Indiana Fever) and a favorite to compete for the Western Conference Championship (Minnesota Lynx). If I’m honest, I already had them penciled in for a 0-2 start to the season with such a brutal schedule at the beginning of the season. Instead, they convincingly won both games going in to Indiana and beating the Fever (72-65) then traveling to Minnesota to knock off the Lynx (87-76).
Open mouth, insert foot.
Watching the games, it was evident that the team has made it a point to make adversity work for them. They play together as a team, they distribute the ball well, and they put up an active front defensively. In their first two games, the Mystics defense has held opponents to an average of just 24 rpg (a league-best), 39% FGs (4th in the league), 70.5 ppg (4th in the league), and 17 turnovers per game (5th in the league). Offensively, they’re averaging 80 ppg (3rd in the league), shooting 50 percent from the floor (2nd in the league), and attempting almost 25 FTs each game (4th in the league). Similar to the ‘05-06 Suns, they have a distinct seven-man rotation that accounts for the bulk of their minutes. Led by Monique Currie’s 24 ppg (1st in the WNBA) and Crystal Langhorne’s ability to notch a double-double every night, the Mystics have already shown they won’t be a team to make excuses or give up. In addition, the calming presence of Katie Smith has already proved to be invaluable.
Sometimes, all it takes for a team to get over the proverbial hump is a chip on their shoulder. You can’t game plan for hustle and resilience; something the Mystics have an abundance of. Adversity is a powerful thing; there are times when it can destroy you and other times it can make you a better person/team. In this case, the Mystics have already used it to motivate them to defy all odds.
Yes, it’s early in to the 2010 season. Yes, the Mystics still have a long way to go. But if the first two games have taught us anything, it’s that the Washington Mystics are a team to be reckoned with.
I’m certainly not going to bet against them.