Washington Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne couldn’t help noticing the electricity that flowed through the Sports and Entertainment Arena during the team’s home opener on Saturday evening.
“It was amazing and exceeded expectations,” Donne said. “It felt like the energy we had throughout the playoffs picked back up. The fans were electric and gave us that extra boost.”
It was the crowd’s rambunctious cheers and enthusiasm that gave the Mystics the energy they needed to beat the Atlanta Dream 96-75 on Saturday evening.
Even though the Mystics’ new home is much smaller than the Capital One Arena, the stadium felt more crowded and louder. Donne feels the arena will be an advantage for the Mystics throughout the season.
“It felt crowded,” Donne said. “It’s fun when you can’t hear a play. I like that. It was a moment when we had to use hand signals because it was so loud. It’s such an advantage for us if we can keep that energy.”
The Mystics had a week off from their season opening loss to the Connecticut Sun. The Mystics were able to use that time to make adjustments and strengthen their chemistry.
“We didn’t have our best effort in our opener against Connecticut,” Mystics guard Kristi Toliver said. “We were able to have another week to prepare for Atlanta and I think it showed.”
Donne, who missed the first game of the season with left knee soreness, made her first seven shot attempts. The All-Star forward finished with 18 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes of play.
Donne felt good on the court, and the Mystics’ double-digit lead throughout the game allowed her to plenty of rest in the second half.
“I felt good and strong,” Donne said. “I was able to get a lot of rest in the second half. Hopefully, I can keep building.”
Donne was wearing a knee brace that she felt made her more stable instead of holding her back.
“I really don’t notice it other than I feel a little more stable,” Donne said. “I’m still able to be mobile in it, but it keeps me from hyperextension. Makes me feel more confident.”
The biggest takeaway from the Mystics’ victory was their dominant offensive performance, as they shot 56 percent from the floor. However, the Mystics defensive pressure kept the Dream, who was playing their second straight game, from finding a groove on offense.
“We set the tone defensively in the first half,” Mystics Head Coach Mike Thibault said. “We made shot tough for them and we tried to take their legs from them with our pressure.”
Second year player Aerial Atkins scored a game-high 21 points and went 4-7 from behind the arc. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who is in her third season with the Mystics, tallied 10 points.
“They are our youngest [players] and they stepped in,” Thibault said. “One of the things we said in the offseason was that we need to find players to take some pressure off our veterans.”
Messeman registered 14 points off the bench for the Mystics, who led by as many as 32 points. Tianna Hawkins added eight points and six rebounds, while Kristi Toliver had 10 points and five assists.
Thibault was impressed by the energy level the Mystics possessed on the floor and on the bench.
“I thought everyone brought energy the whole night,” Thibault said. “When you saw our bench celebrating, it looked like a team that feels good about each other.”