Matchup: No. 2 Atlanta Dream vs. No. 3 Washington Mystics; Best-of-3 series
Season Series: Atlanta 3-2, taking the opening three games by an average off 13 points, but Washington won the last two matchups. Before those victories, the Mystics had lost eight straight to the Dream dating back to September 1, 2011.
Washington - Points (Ivory Latta, 13.9); Rebounds (Crystal Langhorne, 7.2); Assists (Latta, 4.4)
Atlanta - Points (Angel McCoughtry, 21.5*); Rebounds (Erika de Souza, 9.9); McCoughtry (4.4)
*The dynamic McCoughtry led the WNBA in scoring and steals (2.7) this season while averaging a career-high 5.3 rebounds.
Game 1 - Mystics at Dream, Thursday, 8:00 ET, ESPN2
Game 2 - Dream at Mystics, Saturday, 7:00 ET, NBATV
Game 3 - Mystics at Dream (if necessary), TBD
Thibault Time: From 11 combined wins the previous two seasons to the franchise's first playoff appearance since 2010 - and in the first campaign under head coach and general manager Mike Thibault, the winningest coach in league history. With three straight victories to close the regular season and a final game loss by Indiana, Washington took the third seed and avoided a first-round series against Elena Delle Donne's Chicago Sky.
Hot Latta: Signed as free agent, Ivory Latta's relentless enthusiasm from the point guard position filled a two-year long void. She also filled up the baskets with long-range shots over the final four games, sinking 15 of 23 3-point attempts.
“When I have that energy the team feeds off my energy," Latta said after finishing with 15 points and 10 assists in Washington's 85-80 win at Atlanta on August 28. "Coach told me to add my energy, my smile, my bounce to whatever I’m doing and my teammates will follow behind and everything ended up working out for us this game.”
On the season, Latta led the Mystics in scoring, assists, 3-point shooting (39.6 percent), free throw percentage (90.2) - and tied Minnesota's Maya Moore for the WNBA lead with 72 3-pointers. The second of her two double-doubles (15 points, 10 assists) came in Washington's 85-80 win at Atlanta on August 28.
No more down Hill: Four rookies were part of Thibault's roster overhaul. For much of the season, first round pick Tayler Hill certainly wasn't the best of the fresh faced bunch, struggling to provide Washington with much needed perimeter shooting. Over the final seven games, a much different story for the fourth overall pick. Hill reached double figure scoring in six of Washington's final seven games, matching her career-best of 16 points in season-closing wins over Connecticut and New York. "You're seeing the maturation of Tayler Hill," Thibault stated after the Sept. 13 home win over Connecticut as Hill started the decisive run with two 3-pointers.
In that seven-game span, Hill went 18 for 35 on her 3-point attempts after shooting 17 for 70 over her first 27 games.
Keys for the Mystics
1) Controlling McCoughtry -- The 6-foot-1 wing paced Atlanta in scoring during each game against Washington, averaging 19.6 points. There is no full proof plan when it comes to stopping the U.S. Olympian. Getting the ball out of McCoughtry's hands helped in the Mystics first win against the Dream.
“Tonight we didn’t give her many opportunities," Thibault said after Washington's 74-64 win on August 23. McCoughtry scored 17 points, but took 20 field goal attempts and committed five turnovers. "We tried to make her be a passer. ...We made them work for everything they got.”
The best of luck stopping McCoughtry task falls to Monique Currie, Washington's third-leading scorer.
"They're a really good team, but you can get them to make mistakes and that's what we did," Currie said after the first of back-to-back wins over Atlanta. "We made them take a lot of outside shots, which isn't their strong point."
2) Consistency - The current winning streak matches Washington's longest on the season. The two other times the Mystics won three straight, they lost the next game and then at least one more. Two straight losses against Atlanta means an immediate and unwanted start to the offseason. "I think Washington is kind of a wild card," Connecticut coach Anne Donovan said following the teams final meeting. "They've been up and down. How consistent they can play in the postseason will determine how long they last."