Mystics enters Game 2 of the playoff series against Liberty with a focused effort

NEW YORK — Elena Delle Donne thought the question was absurd last week. The Washington Mystics star was asked if there was any eleventh-hour inspiration for the team ahead of their playoff opener against the New York Liberty. Delle Donne all but dismissed the idea.

“If you have to say something to get people ready for the playoffs, you have a big problem,” Delle Donne said. “If you need someone to cheer you up for this moment, you have a big problem.”

But after the Liberty’s 90-75 win on Friday, which left the Mystics one game from elimination in the best-of-three series, the conversation focused squarely on the performance – and lack thereof – in the Mystics’ Game 1 guard Brittney Sykes quoted outside the team’s locker room at Barclays Center. Coach Eric Thibault looked at the stats and mentioned being beaten 50-50 and outrebounded in the second and third quarters (after Washington jumped out to an early lead) and criticized his team’s defense when New York was on the court higher defended ground.

“For me it’s effort,” Thibault said. “It’s like, ‘I have to sprint back, and I have to turn around and be ready to guard the ball.’ But part of it is, “The ball is changing hands, I don’t have six to seven seconds to prepare to defend.” “I have to be hustled and ready from the start.”

“It’s probably as much of a mental strain as it is a physical one.”

Mystics enter the playoff series against Liberty as “very scary” underdogs

“I wouldn’t say that,” Delle Donne said Monday. “Maybe sometimes you see nerves and it translates and almost looks like that. But I wouldn’t say our group hasn’t made any efforts. We’re in the playoffs. I hope to God everyone plays with effort. Often it’s because people are nervous and don’t play as aggressively because they’re only doing it in their minds. So I think remove the game from your system and be ready for it [Tuesday].”

Regardless of whether the team can reach a consensus on the level of effort, urgency was clearly at the forefront of Sunday’s practice, Myisha Hines-Allen said.

“We have to have a sense of urgency,” Hines-Allen said. “In a way, we all have playoff experience, so we know what it takes to win it. …And that sense of urgency is what it takes. That’s why we preached in practice today that we have to do it, whether it’s defense or attack. On Tuesday it’s win or go home.”

The Mystics were 2-2 against the Liberty in the regular season, with the two losses decided by a total of 10 points, including one in overtime. So the 15-point loss in Game 1 was bigger than expected.

Natasha Cloud flatly called the defensive performance “lazy.” Sabrina Ionescu, who made a franchise-record seven three-pointers in the postseason and scored 29 points, a career playoff high, pointed to Cloud waving to the crowd after the regular-season finale, telling ESPN after Friday’s game : “We had to show them what that felt like.”

Cloud said she plans to go one-on-one with Ionescu in Game 2.

“We didn’t have that mentality on Friday night,” Cloud said. “That completely changed before the game on Tuesday. We will be in theirs [stuff]. I won’t be leaving Sabrina for another 40 minutes, and that’s exactly what it will be. So you get a rude awakening [Tuesday].

“It is very disappointing but humbling at the same time. When we saw the film it was very humbling and I said so.”

If the Mystics were looking for positives, one of them was Hines-Allen, who matched his season high with 21 points after reaching double figures just six times in 35 regular-season games. Offseason knee surgery slowed her down all season, but she started the last four games and was a bigger force as a playmaker due to her scoring and rebounding.

“Seeing the ball go in was definitely breathtaking because that was half the battle,” Hines-Allen said. “I was on the sidelines in all the other games too and just couldn’t finish it. So just seeing the ball go in and him continuing to trust what I’m doing and just playing the same kind of confidence and aggressiveness.”

Hines-Allen’s offensive resurgence is crucial to keeping up with the firepower of the Liberty, who averaged 89.2 points in the regular season, second-most in the WNBA. The Liberty have only been held under 75 points once all season – in the 80-64 season opener against the Mystics. New York has only been under 80 six times, and three of those were losses.

“Ninety is too many and 75 is not enough,” Thibault said.

The biggest offensive player is Delle Donne, who only had 11 points on 5-for-12 shooting in Game 1 despite playing more than 35 minutes. In games where Delle Donne scores fewer than 18 points, the team is 6-8, including Game 1.

The two-time MVP said they need to call and execute plays to get the best looks. Thibault called it a good balance because he doesn’t want to slow the team down with lots of sets, but he does want organization, especially early in possession. He wants Delle Donne to get the ball in better spaces on the field.

“When we were just playing, so to speak, we weren’t that good, whatever the ball,” Delle Donne said. Mystics enters Game 2 of the playoff series against Liberty with a focused effort

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