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Ariel Atkins scores 22 points, unbeaten Mystics top Storm 89-71

UPDATED: Thu., July 30, 2020

Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen (2) goes up for a shot over Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart (30) during the first half of a WNBA basketball game Thursday, July 30, 2020, in Bradenton, Fla.  (Associated Press)
Washington Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen (2) goes up for a shot over Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart (30) during the first half of a WNBA basketball game Thursday, July 30, 2020, in Bradenton, Fla. (Associated Press)
By Percy Allen Seattle Times

Thursday’s early-season showdown between the 2018 WNBA champion Storm and the defending champion Washington Mystics pitted the league’s top-rated defense against the highest-scoring offense.

After a few minutes, it became apparent Seattle’s staunch defense was no match against Washington’s blistering perimeter attack that handed the Storm their first loss of the season, an 89-71 setback at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Seattle (2-1) entered the game allowing a league-low 68.5 points while Washington (3-0) averaged 97.5 points, which topped all WNBA teams.

The Mystics wasted no time proving their revamped roster, which includes just one starter from last year’s team, is better than their modest preseason projections.

While the Storm missed five of their first six shots, Washington sprinted out to an early 12-2 lead and was up 21-14 after the first quarter.

The Mystics outscored the Storm 29-18 in the second quarter, and Seattle trailed 50-32 at halftime.

“For whatever reason, it’s hard to pinpoint why it looked like we were a step slow on everything in that first half,” Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg said via video teleconference. “We have to play with a high energy at the defensive end and hit shots.”

It was the first real test of the season for the Storm, who crushed New York and Minnesota during lopsided wins.

This time, however, the Mystics enjoyed mismatches on the wing with forward Ariel Atkins (game-high 22 points) and point guard Leilani Mitchell of Richland (12 points), who combined to convert 9 of 16 3-pointers.

Washington also hammered Seattle inside with center Myisha Hines-Allen (17 points, seven rebounds and five assists) and forward Emma Meesseman (10 points, five rebounds and four assists).

The Storm fell behind by 25 points for their largest deficit when Hines-Allen banked in a fadeaway jumper with 2:19 left in the third quarter.

“One thing that we always pride ourselves is knowing that our run is going to come at some point,” said Storm forward Breanna Stewart, who finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds for her second straight double-double performance. “At some point it’s going to come, and today it didn’t.

“We struggled to put together multiple stops and we struggled to execute when we did get a stop. That’s not going to get us anything.”

Seattle entered the fourth quarter down 71-50 and made things interesting for a moment when the reserves trimmed Washington’s lead to 74-62 with 4:40 remaining.

Kloppenburg reinserted Stewart and Alysha Clark in the final minutes and chose to leave the other starters on the sideline.

Atkins put the game away with a 3-pointer on the wing after being fouled. Her ensuing free throw pushed Washington ahead 78-62 at the 4:21 mark and the Storm never threatened again.

Seattle finished 5 of 25 on 3-pointers.

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