June 8, 2024 

What the record doesn’t tell you about Washington Mystics’ 0-11 start

They’ve hung around in almost every game, but it’s on to the next one

WASHINGTON — Late in the third quarter of Friday’s game against the Indiana Fever, Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen made a spin move in the post. With the Mystics down by four, she sank a turnaround jump shot, drawing a foul in the process. The veteran let out a roar after the ball fell through the net, then swung at the air triumphantly, almost like she was trying to force the momentum to the Mystics’ side.

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Less than a minute later, there was a scramble for a loose ball, and Hines-Allen couldn’t secure it to give the Mystics the last shot of the quarter. The Fever missed, but Hines-Allen still smacked her hands together in frustration after the period ended, recognizing the missed opportunity.

As much as the Mystics tried to grab onto a win on Friday, it eventually slipped through their fingers as they lost 85-83. That’s how much of the season has gone for Washington, which fell to 0-11.

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It’s the worst losing streak to start a season in Mystics history, surpassing an 0-8 start in 2007, and the fourth-worst in WNBA history. And combined with the Mystics’ two straight playoff losses to end the 2023 season, the 13-game losing streak is tied for the longest losing streak at any time in franchise history.

The 11-game losing streak this season matches the longest streak in the Mystics’ inaugural season in 1998, when they went 3-27. In the early years of the franchise, Mystics Hall of Famer Murriel Page recalled in 2022, the team was so bad that fans called them the “Mistakes.”

During this streak, head coach Eric Thibault said he has received messages from some Mystics from that era. And he’s had so many messages overall telling him to stay positive that, he told reporters on Tuesday, “I’m like, all right, that’s too much now. We’re OK. Nobody died.”

Thibault added, “Nobody’s happy with what the standings show, but I don’t think anybody that’s watched us play has gone, oh, that’s a team that looks defeated, or that’s not a team that brings it every night. You just … got to keep plugging away, and at some point, it’s gonna break through.”

To Thibault’s point, eight of the Mystics’ 11 losses have been by single digits, and five have been by two possessions or fewer. They have been tied or ahead after three quarters five times, and in the last five minutes of their games, the score is within five points more often than not. According to Basketball-Reference’s calculations, Washington’s performance so far would be expected to produce three wins rather than zero.

“It’s us beating ourselves,” veteran guard Ariel Atkins told The Next before Friday’s game. “And it sucks to say and it sucks to feel, but at the end of the day, I’d rather have that and be in control of our destiny than have the other way around.”

“We feel how close that next opportunity is,” veteran guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough told reporters on Thursday after a 79-71 loss to the Chicago Sky. “I mean, it just feels like we’re showing what we’re capable of. Whether it’s in one quarter, one half, but we got to figure it out, how to put a game together. We’re right there.”

Washington Mystics guard Ariel Atkins holds the ball and looks for a pass. She is shown in the background but in focus, with several other players in the foreground with their backs to the camera.
Washington Mystics guard Ariel Atkins (7) looks for a pass during a game against the Chicago Sky at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., on June 6, 2024. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

The Mystics have arguably struggled most with scoring the ball. They rank last in the 12-team WNBA at 90.8 points scored per 100 possessions. That’s partly because they rarely get to the free-throw line and often turn the ball over — ranking 11th in both categories — resulting in fewer shot attempts. And when they get shots, they often aren’t making them, ranking 10th in effective field goal percentage at 46.3%.

The Mystics have had challenges defensively, too, ranking ninth in points allowed per 100 possessions at 102.2. They’ve done fairly well limiting opponents from 3-point range, but they are allowing teams to shoot a league-high 52.6% on 2-pointers and get to the free-throw line frequently. The Mystics’ foul rate of 22.0% is also the worst in the league.

Their struggles have largely come in the second half of games. Second quarters tend to be their best, as they outscore teams by a whopping 9.5 points per 100 possessions. (If that was sustained for a whole game, it’d rank fourth in the WNBA and ahead of the two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces.)

QuarterOffensive RatingDefensive RatingNet Rating
Source: WNBA Stats

However, in third quarters, Washington’s defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) skyrockets, from 87.8 in second quarters to 111.3. Opponents shoot better from most areas of the court, and the Mystics’ turnover rate increases from 20.7% to 24.0%.

In fourth quarters, the struggles tend to carry over on offense. The Mystics’ offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) plummets from 96.4 in third quarters to an abysmal 76.5. Their effective field goal percentage drops from 50.3% to 36.0%, largely because of sharp declines in their shooting percentages in the paint and behind the arc.

“We don’t have room for error to have a bad 10 minutes,” Thibault told reporters before Friday’s game, mentioning how the Mystics have been without injured starters Brittney Sykes and Shakira Austin for several games. “You can maybe have a bad minute, bad couple minutes. But you got to get back on the horse a lot quicker. And … it can’t be two ends of the floor that go at the same time. … The 14-0 run should be a 4-0 run and then we come back and have a good possession.”

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The Mystics also haven’t had a lot of practice time to work on their weaknesses, with 11 games in the first 25 days of the season. That’s tied for the second most in the WNBA behind the Indiana Fever. When they have practiced, they’ve focused on the basics, including working on finishing by doing a layup line against associate head coach and former Mystics center LaToya Sanders.

On Thursday, the Mystics had arguably their best offensive half of the season against Chicago, leading by as many as 11 in the second quarter and 44-35 at halftime. They shot 54.5% from the field, led by rookies Aaliyah Edwards (16 first-half points on 7-for-7 shooting) and Julie Vanloo (five assists). But the Mystics mustered just 10 points in the third quarter, tying their season low, and trailed by six entering the fourth quarter.

“We had good shots [in the third quarter]. We just couldn’t make them,” Vanloo told The Next before Friday’s game. “… And then we started to think and then we just get in that pattern, you know? … We have to stay confident also in the second half, just play the same way.”

On Friday, in the second game of a back-to-back, the Mystics struggled out of the gates, trailing Indiana by as many as 12 early in the second quarter. But by their own estimation, they responded more quickly than they have in the past and cleaned up their turnovers and transition defense.

The Mystics rattled off a 21-9 run to tie the game at 40 with 37 seconds left in the half, and they battled through six lead changes and two ties in the third quarter instead of repeating their bad quarter from Thursday’s game.

But in the final five minutes, the Mystics had the ball with a chance to tie or take the lead five times, including on the final possession with 5.4 seconds left — and did so on none of them.

Washington Mystics head coach Eric Thibault walks down the sideline and claps.
Washington Mystics head coach Eric Thibault claps during a game against the Atlanta Dream at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C., on May 29, 2024. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

Though Thibault and his players have been frustrated and disappointed after losses, they insist that they’ve kept the right mindset. There is no finger-pointing; instead, players are taking accountability for how they can be better. Thibault mentioned Atkins, Walker-Kimbrough, Austin and Sykes as players he hears in the locker room, all “with the right message, trying to keep the group together.”

One example of that accountability came after Friday’s game. Atkins had 16 points, the second-most on the team, but shot just 7-for-21. She also missed three shots in the final 90 seconds and failed to get a shot off in time on the last possession.

“[I] definitely could have been more aggressive in actually getting to the rim and creating contact,” Atkins told reporters postgame. “Faded away on probably two of the shots, took a late three. Probably didn’t need it, put it up anyway.

“I’m still taking my shot. I’m not saying that I would never take them. … [But] I could have taken more aggressive attacks in that time and place.”

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The players are also lifting each other up. For example, in the second quarter on Friday, Walker-Kimbrough turned the ball over, then compounded her mistake by fouling. She got subbed out immediately and tugged her jersey down in frustration, then put her head down as she sat on the bench. Austin rose from her seat near the end of the bench, went over to Walker-Kimbrough and patted her on the back.

When Walker-Kimbrough subbed back in in the third quarter, she was aggressive, taking three shots and finding Hines-Allen for the and-one that got her so animated.

“I feel like when things kind of hit the fan, we almost go into the mode of, oh, I let my team down,” Atkins told The Next pregame. “And we can’t be thinking that. We have to move on to the next play and know that everybody in this locker room trusts everybody to do what they signed up to come here and do.”

The arena is dark, but a spotlight illuminates the Washington Mystics as they huddle before a game.
The Washington Mystics huddle before a game against the Indiana Fever at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., on June 7, 2024. (Photo credit: Domenic Allegra | The Next)

As the Mystics continue to chase their first win, Thibault is trying to keep things simple and make sure they don’t feel like they’re playing to erase all 11 losses in one game. For Atkins, it’s felt at times like they’re going through “the seven stages of … trying to figure out who we are,” and she doesn’t want losing to become part of their identity.

“We’re fighting for our culture and our organization every day,” she told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s not something that we’re just like, oh, we’re [on] a losing streak. We’re a losing team. No, that’s not who we are.”

Shortly after the losses became official on both Thursday and Friday, Jay-Z’s “On to the Next One” burst out of the speakers at Capital One Arena. The chorus seemingly drilled the message the Mystics are preaching in the locker room — move on to the next game — into the fans’ minds, too.

“You can’t really think too much,” Vanloo said. “You just have to transfer your mind immediately. … [You] have no time to sit around and feel sorry for yourself.”

All statistics reflect games through June 7.

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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