For much of the first three quarters of Thursday’s Game 2 between the Lynx and Mystics, Washington guard Kristi Toliver was a problem.
Held to three points in Tuesday’s Game 1 of the best-of-five WNBA semifinals, Toliver was leading all scorers with 22 points. She had made nine of 17 shots and three of seven three-pointers. She was a big reason — along with Elena Delle Donne — the Mystics, overrun in the first game, were trading punches with the Lynx on the Williams Arena court.
Then things changed.
The Lynx adjusted their pick and roll coverage, with the idea of forcing Toliver to drive rather than getting an open look at a shot. The Lynx made sure there was a second defender waiting for her, while at the same time trying to deny Delle Donne.
The Mystics didn’t have an answer.
“That’s when you need your other players on the weak side to be ready and willing to shoot,” Washington coach Mike Thibault said. “This is part of the process we’re going through. We miss a third or fourth scorer.”
Washington is a talented team that was hurt when guard Tayler Hill, the former Minneapolis South High School and Ohio State star, was lost midseason to a knee injury. But the difference between the Mystics and the Lynx in the first two games has been clear.
The Lynx have more playoff experience, to be sure. But they also have more scorers.
The Lynx shot 59.4 percent in Game 1 and 51.8 percent in a Game 2 in which the Mystics were far more aggressive on defense.
But the difference has been the scoring depth. The Lynx had four players score in double figures in each game. Thursday, Lindsay Whalen scored nine and would likely have had more had she not sat most of the first quarter with two fouls.
Washington basically has had to rely on Delle Donne and one other scorer. In Game 1 that was Tierra Ruffin-Pratt. Thursday it was Toliver.
That’s not enough in the playoffs. Washington shot 44.6 percent in the first game, just 41.1 percent Thursday. And afterward, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said she needed to see better defense from her team.
“We still have more we can do,” she said.
But it’s scoring that is the difference. The Lynx won Thursday scoring 93 points. Since 2011 the team is 24-0 when scoring 80 or more in a playoff game, 12-13 when the Lynx don’t.
Seimone Augustus has put the pedal down in the playoffs, scoring 24 and 15 points. Maya Moore is averaging 18 points in two games, center Sylvia Fowles 21.3. Thursday Whalen was hot late and Rebekkah Brunson chipped in a double-double.
In order to stave off elimination, the Mystics will have to figure out how to score more while doing a better job containing the Lynx.
Given where the two teams are right now, that won’t be easy.
“They’re a well-oiled machine,” Toliver said of Minnesota. “They know each other, know how to make plays off one another and how to stay poised through adversity. … But we’re still, as a team, continuing to learn.”