June 20, 2021
Twice as nice: How Tina Charles and Theresa Plaisance rewrote the record books against Indiana
The first-year Mystics teammates have obvious on-court chemistry despite limited practice time
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WASHINGTON, DC — With 3:02 left in the second quarter of the Washington Mystics’ 82-77 victory over the Indiana Fever on Saturday, Mystics center Tina Charles stepped to the free-throw line. She had just made a layup for her 19th and 20th points of the game, drawing a foul on Fever center Teaira McCowan in the process.
Point guard Leilani Mitchell looked up at the scoreboard, then turned to her Indiana counterpart, Danielle Robinson. “D-Rob, are you really going to let Tina have 20 and nine [rebounds] in the first half?” Mitchell asked.
Robinson responded, “We can’t do anything. We just can’t stop her.”
That continued all night, as Charles made the free throw en route to a game-high 30 points. She also added 15 rebounds, three assists and three steals, becoming the first player in WNBA history to post that stat line.
“Wow, that’s amazing. I did not know that. Wow,” Charles said postgame upon hearing about her history-making night. It was her fifth 30-point performance in 11 games this season, the most in the WNBA, and the only 30-point, 15-rebound game so far this season.
Yet Charles wasn’t satisfied with her performance: “To be honest, I thought I could have done better. There’s a lot of shots that I normally take throughout my career that I can normally make.”
She made 13 of 30 shots but missed all six of her 3-point attempts, which was unusual for a player who was making 1.8 3-pointers per game entering Saturday. She appeared frustrated when she missed her fourth 3-point attempt as the second quarter ended, even though teammate Theresa Plaisance got the putback as time expired.
In some ways, the game felt like a throwback to earlier in Charles’ career, as her 3-point shooting has been a much larger part of her game this season than in years past. On Saturday, Charles relied on the inside play that has made her a seven-time All-Star and the 2012 WNBA MVP, as all 13 of her baskets came in the paint. Her 15 rebounds—seven offensive—were also a season-high, demonstrating the tenacity and positioning that helped her lead the league in rebounding in each of her first three seasons.
Yet she also showed her expanded game even without the range: Part of the reason that the 6’4 Charles was able to be so effective against a Fever team that boasts McCowan at 6’7 and 6’10 Bernadett Határ was her driving ability.
“She’s quicker than a lot of post players, and so when they were doubling the post, she just stepped out and faced up and tried to drive it by them,” Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said. “Those were a couple really big plays.”
Charles said she especially wanted to play hard and play well on Saturday as a way to thank Thibault for allowing her to miss the team’s previous game, a win over Atlanta on Jun. 17, to attend the premiere of her film “Game Changer” at the Tribeca Film Festival. But she has been playing at an elite level all season and is arguably having the best season of her illustrious 11-year career. She leads the WNBA in scoring and is averaging 24.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.7 blocks per game.
“I have things that I would like to accomplish and that’s to win a championship,” Charles said. “And it starts with the way that I carry myself out on the court and how dominant I can be each and every single night. … I expect the best out of me each and every time I step on the court.”
Charles trained that way during her extended offseason, as she sat out the 2020 season due to health concerns. She honed her skills, her strength and her conditioning, and all of that work is paying off for the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week. “She’s in better shape than almost any post player in the league,” Thibault said on Saturday. “Her conditioning has been terrific, and that goes a little bit unnoticed sometimes.”
“I guess it’s a little like fine wine,” Mitchell added about her 32-year-old teammate. “… She’s a huge, huge, huge, huge player for us, so hopefully we can continue to just keep going to what works.”
Another go-to option for the Mystics as of late has been Plaisance, who became the team’s only available post player shortly before halftime against Atlanta. Forwards Elena Delle Donne, Myisha Hines-Allen and Erica McCall were all in street clothes again on Saturday, but Charles’ return gave the Mystics twice as many available post players. And that proved to be twice as nice.
Plaisance added 16 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and one steal, making her and Charles just the third pair of teammates to score 15+ points, grab 12+ rebounds and dish out 3+ assists.
Plaisance and Charles’ chemistry is evident on the court and has come without much practice time together. The Mystics outscore opponents by 13.6 points per 100 possessions when Charles and Plaisance are on the court, which is the second-best margin of any pairing on the Mystics roster that has played at least 50 minutes together.
Charles’ downplayed the pair’s success, saying, “We were just doing our jobs. You can’t think like, ‘Oh, man, I don’t have a sub coming in.’ You just have to play every minute. And I think that’s exactly what we were doing.”
She later added, “I’ve been in situations throughout my career where I’m highly depended on out there. So I’m used to playing long spurts of minutes, so to me not having a sub or anything like that, that was the last thing on my mind. It was more so how can we get this win and win this possession.”
Despite scoring in double figures for a career-high four consecutive games, Plaisance remained humble. She credited Tina and her other teammates, down to the shortest player on the roster, the 5’5 Mitchell, for how they countered Indiana’s significant size advantage. “Tina did a really great job in the paint tonight. When you see 6’10 and [6’7] and you’re over here at 6’5 and [6’4], and I think one time Leilani was guarding Határ. So you don’t really want that look, but when it happens, you just have to make do.”
While Charles and Plaisance contributed most of the Mystics’ season-high 42 points in the paint, Thibault credited their rebounding with the win.
Plaisance’s versatility has also benefited the Mystics in a variety of ways, including her passing ability that has been overshadowed by her scoring and rebounding.
“Outside of Asjha Jones, I can say Theresa Plaisance is one of the best high-low passers ever. She’ll come down the court and she’ll be like, ‘Duck in,’” Charles said.
“She really believes in herself and what she’s doing this year and coming off of her back injury, I’m just super happy for her to be playing the way that she’s playing and to be getting these minutes and to be effective.”
Going forward, Charles and Plaisance continuing to be a dynamic duo will likely be the ticket to success for the Mystics, who head west for a three-game road trip down several players. Point guard Natasha Cloud sprained her ankle in the second quarter on Saturday, and her status is unknown for Tuesday’s game against Seattle. Hines-Allen and guard Kiara Leslie could also miss Tuesday’s game with a knee injury and concussion, respectively. McCall is expected to be out until the WNBA breaks for the Olympics in mid-July, and there is no timetable for Delle Donne to play this season.
But Plaisance and Charles are undaunted, as they saw how the rest of the team adjusted and stepped up in Saturday’s win.
“It was different for us, but we had a lot of people step up and fill in and take that leadership role,” Plaisance said. “And we figured it out tonight, and there were a lot of things that you can say that came from a lot of different places, but it definitely came from the heart.”
Especially the hearts of the Mystics’ two biggest players, who not only led their team to victory but also wrote their names in the history books.
Written by Jenn Hatfield
Jenn Hatfield has been a contributor to The Next since December 2018 and is currently the site's managing editor, Washington Mystics beat reporter and Ivy League beat reporter. (She also writes the "Family Rivalries" series for The Next.) Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats and FanSided.