September 11, 2021 

‘I can’t really say anything was working for me’: Tina Charles moves into second all-time in rebounding

A frustrated but relentless Charles grabbed six of her own misses and 16 rebounds overall against Atlanta

WASHINGTON, DC – On Friday night, 11-year WNBA veteran Tina Charles didn’t mince words about how much the Washington Mystics’ loss to the Seattle Storm on Sept. 7 bothered her.

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“It’s definitely one that I’ll probably always remember,” she said.

Although Charles, the WNBA’s leading scorer at 24.0 points per game, had just four points and four rebounds in that game, the sting she felt was more about how her team was outplayed start to finish, losing 105-71 in a game that was critical for the Mystics’ playoff hopes.

For Charles, her individual performance against the Atlanta Dream on Friday night was also unsatisfying, as she missed 18 shots and shot just 35.7 percent from the floor. “I thought I played very poor,” she said. “I have high standards for myself and how I come out and play.”

Yet, in important ways, Charles and the Mystics flipped the switch from the game against the Storm with their performance against the Dream, getting a hard-fought 82-74 win behind 26 points and 16 rebounds from Charles. With her ninth rebound, which came on the defensive end early in the third quarter, she also passed WNBA legend Rebekkah Brunson for second all-time with 3,364 career rebounds.

“She’s a great player,” Atlanta guard Courtney Williams said afterward. “… We all know what Tina Charles do. She’s gonna go down in history.”

One thing everyone can agree on is that Charles was aggressive on Friday night, and she credited teammate Shavonte Zellous for encouraging her to play that way. Charles took six shots in the first quarter, the same number as she took in the entire Seattle game. She then attempted at least that many in each of the next three quarters, finishing with 10 made baskets on 28 attempts, including three 3-pointers on six attempts.

In addition to her aggressive mindset, Charles also got more scoring opportunities against Atlanta because the Dream had a very different game plan than the Storm, which threw arguably the most aggressive double-teams at Charles that the Mystics have seen all season. In contrast, Atlanta interim head coach Darius Taylor was concerned about the Mystics’ 3-point shooting, so he decided to defend Charles with a single player. “That worked the first quarter,” he said postgame. “The second quarter, she kind of got activated. And so now we’ve got to bring a double.”

That second quarter was Charles’ best shooting the basketball: She had 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting, whereas she shot under 50 percent in each of the other three quarters. Overall, her 35.7 percent shooting was 11 percentage points lower than she averaged in her historic, MVP-caliber first half of the season.

Mystics head coach Mike Thibault offered several factors that could have contributed to Charles’ relatively tough shooting night. For one, every player has off nights, and Thibault admitted that she rushed a few shots early in the game. But Charles is also returning from a hip injury that caused her to miss four games in late August. She said on Sept. 4 that it was her first in-season injury in her entire WNBA career, so there is a bit of a learning curve as she works herself back.

Thibault also argued that several of Charles’ misses were simply bad officiating. “I thought she got fouled on about three or four plays under the basket, and she would have had 30-something [points] if those had been called, but they weren’t,” he said. “And she stuck with it. That’s a hard thing to do, playing through frustration when you get fouled that many times.”

Charles puts her hands on her head in frustration during the third quarter of a game against the Atlanta Dream on Sept. 10, 2021. Also frustrated: the Dream’s Monique Billings (25) and Courtney Williams (10). (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra)

And Charles was indeed frustrated. She looked visibly upset at times during the game, such as when she put her hands on her head in the third quarter after she scored on a putback of her own missed layup, and was candid about it afterward.

“I hate when I miss shots, especially shots I know I can make in my sleep,” she told NBC Sports Washington in her on-court interview after the game. Several minutes later, she told reporters, “I can’t really say anything was working for me. I think I was just staying with it … I just tried to get on the rebounds, get back into the game on the defensive end, sharing the ball, setting hard screens and I knew one would go in eventually.”

But Thibault gave her credit for finding her footing during the game. “She’s one of those great players that is able to adjust,” he said. She primarily did that on the glass, rebounding six of her own misses and getting six points off of those putbacks.

That relentlessness got Charles to 3,364 career rebounds, passing the five-time WNBA champion Brunson to trail only Minnesota Lynx star Sylvia Fowles all-time. According to Across the Timeline, Brunson got her 3,356 rebounds in 453 regular-season games, but Charles passed her in just 354 games, making the accomplishment even more impressive. Charles is now averaging 9.6 rebounds per game over her career and has led the league in rebounding four times (2010-12 and 2016).

“Tina has really great hands; she has like sticky fingers,” teammate Theresa Plaisance said postgame. “… She does a really great job of finding the ball and just her work that she does ahead of time to wedge people in to get herself available to get these rebounds, as well as staying ready. Even after a shot she thinks is going in, she waits to make sure it goes in. That’s all the way around, with her shot, with everybody else’s shot. She does a really great job of pursuing rebounds as well.

“Tina’s just one of the best in the game at pursuing and grabbing boards, and you see it in statistics and clearly tonight she did a really amazing job as well.”

When the public address announcer highlighted Charles’ milestone, the crowd rose to its feet and cheered. Charles waved before pointing to Kalana Greene, her best friend and former teammate at UConn and with the Connecticut Sun who was coincidentally in attendance. She also shouted out another UConn Husky postgame, telling NBC Sports Washington, “That just goes out to Coach [Geno] Auriemma, who always told me I was the worst rebounder.”

Jokes aside, Charles recognized the magnitude of her accomplishment, calling herself “thankful and blessed to be in this position.” She also spoke at length about the women now on either side of her on the leaderboard.

“Sylvia Fowles, I looked up to her,” Charles told reporters. “I remember when I was at UConn, I had her poster in my locker as motivation, as just someone I wanted to see every day when I came into the gym and who I aspire to be just as dominant as or close to.

“And … to pass Rebekkah Brunson, just what she’s meant to this league, what she’s done, a player like herself, making it okay for players who may not be the most skillful but there’s always the dirty work. There’s those players who do things that don’t show up on the stat sheet, and she’s why you appreciate players like that. And that’s why Minnesota was so successful because of her sacrifice …

“I think it’s all about Rebekkah Brunson and Sylvia Fowles and just what they’ve meant to my career and why I’ve been able to position myself as this, by seeing them—women that look like me—playing as hard as they do and carrying the torch in the WNBA. And I hope that a young woman will see me and feel the same way.”

Perhaps those young women already do, if 25-year-old Atlanta forward Monique Billings’ comments postgame were any indication.

“She’s a monster,” Billings said. “Eight offensive rebounds, eight defensive rebounds and second in the league [all-time] in rebounding.

“Salute to her—she put on a game. She put on a show.”

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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