September 16, 2023 

After long recovery from knee surgery, Washington’s Myisha Hines-Allen finds her ‘sweet spot’ in playoffs

Hines-Allen scored an efficient 21 points in the Mystics’ Game 1 loss on Friday

On Sept. 9, Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen marked the one-year anniversary of having knee surgery in an Instagram story. The photo was a throwback, showing her in the hospital with a “Get Well Soon” balloon tied to her bed.

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“It’s been a WHOLE YEAR!!” she wrote. “Still got a long way to go but definitely finally embracing the journey.”

It took longer than expected for Hines-Allen to be cleared to play, and then it took more time for her to perform the way she knows she can. But there were signs late in the regular season that the sixth-year player was getting more comfortable, and she shone against the New York Liberty in the first round of the WNBA playoffs on Friday. Her 21 points on 9-for-13 shooting were a season high and a playoff career high, and she added eight rebounds and an assist in 27 minutes.

“It’s a process, and it’s just about me trusting the process,” Hines-Allen told reporters postgame. “And right now, I’m peaking at the right time.”

Hines-Allen’s knee issues began when she strained her left patellar tendon on June 17, 2021, against the Atlanta Dream. She returned two months later, but her knee continued to bother her in 2022. After the Mystics lost in the 2022 playoffs to the Seattle Storm, Hines-Allen had surgery to partially repair that tendon — the first surgery of her career.

Although Hines-Allen’s projected recovery time was three to four months, it actually took several months longer. It was challenging for her mentally as the winter dragged on, and she eventually missed the first five games of the 2023 season. She returned on June 3 on a minutes restriction but struggled early, averaging just 2.8 points on 22% shooting in her first eight games.

In July, Hines-Allen moved from reserve to starter while center Shakira Austin and forward Elena Delle Donne were injured. Her minutes gradually increased, from about 10 per game when she made her season debut to over 20 in August. In 15 straight games as a starter, Hines-Allen averaged 6.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game while shooting 34% from the field. But she still wasn’t at the level she wanted to be.

“Not knowing exactly when I’m going to feel like myself again, [I’m] accepting that some days are going to be better than others,” she said on July 28. “… I’m gonna feel like crap sometimes, and sometimes I’m gonna feel amazing. So it’s just about just accepting every single day, whether it’s like, I can only give 30% of my 100[%], but knowing that 30[%], I’m going to give all of my 30[%] and accepting that and just believing in this process.”

Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen moves laterally as Minnesota Lynx forward Dorka Juhász dribbles the ball with her right hand.
Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen (2) defends Minnesota Lynx forward Dorka Juhász (14) during a game at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minn., on July 26, 2023. (Photo credit: John McClellan | The Next)

One early sign of progress for Hines-Allen was her defense. With the 6’5 Austin out, the 6’1 Hines-Allen often guards much taller opponents, including 6’6 Liberty forward Jonquel Jones, 6’7 Dallas Wings center Teaira McCowan and 6’9 Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner. The coaching staff had challenged Hines-Allen in the offseason to study opponents more intently, and she has found success in these matchups from that. Former Mystics center and current associate head coach LaToya Sanders has helped Hines-Allen with her film study, and Hines-Allen feels the difference on the court.

“The game is just slowing down now for me, but now I think for me, I can actually know exactly what’s going to happen,” she said. “Like, I know the plays and stuff of the opposing team. … So I try to not necessarily predetermine but be a step quicker to it.”

The game slowed down for Hines-Allen offensively, too, as her chemistry with her teammates and her timing as a passer and screener came back. In particular, Hines-Allen and Delle Donne were both healthy for the last seven regular-season games, and they’ve gotten better at making reads and playing off each other on the fly.

“She knows oftentimes her man is gonna come and double [me], so she’s able to find those spots,” Delle Donne told reporters on Thursday. “I’ll find her. She’s a great finisher. She’s strong. She’s a great offensive player. She can stretch the floor. So it’s fun playing with her.”

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Hines-Allen briefly returned to a reserve role in mid-August, but she started the last three regular-season games in Austin’s place and averaged 6.3 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game. Point guard Natasha Cloud said on Sept. 8 that she’d noticed how Hines-Allen had become “really decisive and confident” late in the season.

Hines-Allen has figured out what the team needs from her: defense, rebounding, facilitating, screening and aggressive reads on offense.

“If you’re a big-time player, you can handle whatever situation you’re put into — lineup combinations, minutes, starting, coming off the bench,” Mystics head coach Eric Thibault told reporters on Aug. 20. “I think that’s something she’s probably taken to heart.”

“I think it’s just, for the most part … going with the flow of the game and knowing your role,” Hines-Allen said on Tuesday about how she’d found more of a rhythm. “You definitely know your role at the end of the season, whatever it is. You always will know it. So I think now it’s just flourishing in that.”

In 2020 and 2021, Hines-Allen had racked up points, averaging 17.0 and 12.9 points per game, respectively. That high-level scoring was one of the last elements of her game to resurface after surgery, but it was there on Friday, helping the No. 7 seed Mystics battle the No. 2 seed Liberty in Game 1 of the best-of-three series before falling 90-75.

Hines-Allen’s 21 points were her most since Aug. 5, 2022, and Friday marked only her third 20-point game since she first injured her knee in June 2021. (In comparison, Hines-Allen had had seven 20-point games in the shortened 2020 season alone.) And combined with her eight rebounds, Hines-Allen became just the second player in franchise history to put up those numbers in a playoff game while also making at least two-thirds of her shots.

Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen flexes her arms downward, lifts her head skyward and shouts in celebration.
Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen (2) celebrates an and-one during a game against the Atlanta Dream at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C., on June 28, 2023. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

“[With] her willingness to battle, to get on the boards, to give us kind of a different type of ball-handler … she just is bringing a lot at both ends,” Thibault said postgame.

Hines-Allen put up points in a variety of ways, even though eight of her nine field goals came within four feet of the rim. “I was just taking what the defense was giving me and just being aggressive,” she said postgame. “… Just doing what I need to do for the team.”

Less than two minutes into the game, her first basket came when she slipped a screen she was going to set for Cloud and got a wide-open layup. She would get two more baskets from reading pick-and-rolls with Cloud and guard Ariel Atkins.

She also worked well with Delle Donne: In the first quarter, Hines-Allen caught the ball on the perimeter, passed it to Delle Donne in the mid-post and cut straight to the rim. Delle Donne drove to the baseline and found Hines-Allen for the finish. Near the end of the game, Delle Donne drove down the lane and passed out to Hines-Allen, who attacked the middle of the court before spinning left for a layup.

Other times, Hines-Allen scored off strong individual efforts. Midway through the third quarter, she brought the ball up court and drove past four-time WNBA All-Defensive Team forward Breanna Stewart for a right-handed layup. She also scored once in transition and once on an offensive rebound.

Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen shoots an uncontested right-handed layup.
Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen (2) shoots a layup in a game against the Seattle Storm at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C., on July 11, 2023. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

“She’s been playing better and better as we’ve gotten farther into the season,” Thibault said. “It’s always that balance of, we kind of put her in positions where she’s a screener and roller a lot, but we also let her handle the ball. And I thought she just kept the game real simple but still aggressive. I think that’s the trickiest thing is being aggressive without trying to do too much, and I thought she hit a nice sweet spot.”

Hines-Allen’s lone 3-pointer came early in the fourth quarter, which was her highest-scoring quarter as she tried to help the Mystics reverse a 12-point deficit. She helped get the ball moving in the halfcourt offense and got it back at the top of the key. Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello winced as the shot went up and jerked her head down as it swished through the net.

“She was a hard guard for us today,” Brondello said postgame. “And it’s not that she was an afterthought. We did discuss her, but she made some plays. … She’s a tough, physical player and she got in positions where she got wide-open looks.”

After the buzzer sounded on the physical and hotly contested game, Hines-Allen joined Thibault and Atkins for the postgame press conference. Atkins and Hines-Allen were drafted to Washington together in 2018 and have been teammates ever since, and Atkins contributed 14 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals on Friday despite playing with a broken nose.

Asked for her thoughts on Hines-Allen’s performance, Atkins started to talk about how proud she was of Hines-Allen’s mental resilience and greater ability to move on after mistakes. Then she paused and looked over at her teammate.

“I mean, I’ll tell you,” she said, addressing Hines-Allen. “I’m extremely proud of you in how you’ve handled this process and how you’ve mentally gathered yourself.”

Atkins continued, “So, like she said, she’s peaking at the right time. She’s put in the work. She’s been patient with herself. She’s taken the time to get better mentally, physically, emotionally. And it’s showing up on the court.”

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. Her work has also appeared at FiveThirtyEight, Her Hoop Stats, FanSided, Power Plays and Princeton Alumni Weekly.

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