- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 20, 2018

Four starters scored in double figures and coach Mike Thibault praised his bench’s performance as the Washington Mystics won their season opener, 82-75, over the Indiana Fever on Sunday at Capital One Arena.

Kristi Toliver led with 16 points and Elena Delle Donne scored 11 of her 13 points in the second half, along with leading the team with seven assists and five rebounds.

The Mystics (1-0) went 11-for-25 from 3-point range to build and maintain a lead over Indiana throughout the afternoon. The Fever (0-2) only made five threes, but they outrebounded Washington 39-27 and center Natalie Achonwa posted career highs of 21 points and 12 rebounds in her first career double-double.

“We’ll take the win. That’s what I told our team,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said. “It was ugly at times. You want to get your first one. We got some nerves, it looked like, a little bit in the first half. I don’t think we had a real good rhythm, but we played hard.”

In her first regular season game back with her old team, Monique Currie scored 11 points for the Mystics and hit an important 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter.

“I’m happy that we won. I think that we can play much better than we did today, but it was the season opener so we’ll work and we’ll be better for the next game,” Currie said.

The Mystics’ first points of the season came on a flashy play: Toliver pulled off a crossover, spun out of her defender’s reach and passed across the court to Tierra Ruffin-Pratt in the far corner for a 3-pointer.

The first quarter stayed tight, though, as neither team led by more than four. Natasha Cloud scored the final five points of the quarter to give Washington a 21-17 lead.

The Mystics built on that in the second quarter with scoring from their second unit, including rookies Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen. All 10 Mystics who played Sunday scored at least two points before halftime, and they took a 38-30 lead into the locker room.

“I think our bench, particularly our young players, did a terrific job of giving us a little bit of momentum,” Thibault said. Contrasting them with the veterans, he later joked, “They showed probably a little less nerves than the (veterans) did at the start, so maybe they just don’t know better.”

That included Delle Donne’s cold shooting start. Although she was productive on the boards and facilitating plays, she shot 1-for-9 in the first half. She reversed that trend in the third quarter, making a turnaround jumper off the glass early and then getting to the line to make two free throws.

With Delle Donne and Toliver both rolling, the Mystics extended their lead to as many as 15 points, but a quick 7-0 run brought the Fever back into the game.

All afternoon, the Mystics had trouble defending Achonwa, Indiana’s center, and Candice Dupree, a forward. Achonwa scored nine points in the fourth quarter as the Fever mounted a comeback. Late in the period, a 5-0 mini-run for Indiana made the score 79-73 with 1:20 left.

But on the Mystics’ next possession, Toliver nailed her fourth 3-pointer of the game to ice it.

“We had some silly turnovers and they were able to get some easy ones,” Toliver said. “It’s a minute and some change left and it was a two-possession game, so you kinda knew we needed more points. That was literally the only thing on my mind, ‘Get a shot up.’”

For Indiana, Kelsey Mitchell scored 16 points and Dupree added 13 points and 10 rebounds.

In addition to the 3-point discrepancy, the Mystics made 15 of 16 free throws, while the Fever only went 16-for-25 from the stripe.

The Mystics hit the court again Tuesday night to host the Las Vegas Aces, then travel to Indiana for another game with the Fever Thursday.

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