SEATTLE -- The Washington Mystics head home down 2-0 in the WNBA Finals confident of one thing: They will shoot better in Game 3 on Wednesday than they did in their 75-73 Game 2 loss to the Seattle Storm -- at the very least from 3-point range.
The Mystics set a WNBA playoff record by missing all 16 of their 3-point attempts on Sunday, and collectively they shot just 3-of-37 (8.1 percent) from long range during the first two games of the series in Seattle. That's atypically poor for any team, let alone one that ranked fifth in the league with a 35.8 3-point percent during the regular season. Given Washington was third in 3s both attempted and made, not having those shots go down made life difficult on the road.
"We don't make 3s, it's hard for us," Mystics coach Mike Thibault said after Game 2. "We're one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league. They didn't make them that well, either, but I think it was the defense on both teams. It's tough when we don't make any. We rely on that, and we didn't make them tonight."
During the regular season, Washington went 17-6 when making more 3-pointers than its opponents, good for a .739 winning percentage. The Mystics went just 4-6 (.400) when their opponents made as many or more 3s. Besting the Storm beyond the arc might be difficult, given Seattle led the WNBA in both 3s made and 3-point percentage, but Washington can expect to come closer to achieving parity at home.
"As a 3-point shooting team, we need some of those to go in," guard Kristi Toliver said. "We're going home, we feel really good, we feel really positive. We're going to be better. We were better from the day before. We're going to be better when we get home, and we're going to knock down shots."
While the Mystics will be back in the DMV, they won't be playing at their usual home because Capital One Arena is undergoing renovations. They won't even be at the Charles E. Smith Center on the George Washington campus in D.C., where whey went 2-1 during their first three home playoff games. Instead, Games 3 and 4 will be played across the Virginia state line at George Mason's EagleBank Arena, about 20 miles west of downtown Washington.
Nonetheless, excitement figures to run high for the Mystics' first home games in the WNBA Finals during their 21-year existence. EagleBank Arena, which seats 10,000, should provide for an intimate atmosphere as Washington looks to extend the series.
The Storm head on the road in the familiar position of holding a 2-0 lead and looking to sweep. Seattle is 5-0 at KeyArena this postseason, but dropped both road games during the semifinals as the Phoenix Mercury forced the series to a deciding Game 5.
In happier Storm precedent, the team's last Finals appearance in 2010 saw Seattle complete the sweep against the Atlanta Dream, capping an 8-0 postseason. The Storm have won their past seven Finals games, the longest streak in WNBA history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, dating back to the last two games of their 2004 victory over the Connecticut Sun.
Since the WNBA Finals went to best-of-five in 2005, all five teams to take a 2-0 lead in the series have gone on to complete the sweep. Mystics star Elena Delle Donne was on the wrong end of the most recent sweep when her Chicago Sky lost to the Mercury in 2014.
Washington will attempt to avoid that fate with the same starting lineup it has used throughout the second half of the regular season and playoffs (except for the game Delle Donne missed due to injury), Thibault said. Although backup guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt supplanted Natasha Cloud for most of the last three quarters of Game 2, playing 29 minutes to Cloud's 10, don't anticipate a lineup change.
"Our starting lineup got us this far," Thibault said. "Just one of those nights Tash was having a tough night, and our plus-minus on the floor with Pratt was much better [the Mystics were plus-11 with Ruffin-Pratt on the court and minus-14 with Cloud], so we stuck with that."
Adjustments for Washington don't figure to be as dramatic as after Game 1, when the Mystics trailed by 24 after three quarters. But Delle Donne, who was held scoreless during the fourth quarter, would like to see more variety.
"I think we fell in love too much with me getting the ball on the block," said Delle Donne, the 2015 MVP. "I'm more than just a back-to-the-basket type of player. Playing in space opens up my teammates, also opens myself up. We've got to find a way to not become one-dimensional and just try to force it in. When that's not working, we've got to spread the floor and attack. Fouls are called when you're on the move, when you're attacking, but back to the basket, it's a lot easier for them to not call fouls."
Despite the outcome of Game 2, Delle Donne was encouraged that Washington can build on the way the team played in a two-point loss.
"Obviously it's really frustrating to not come away with the win," she said, "but we were able to see a lot of things, and we get to build on it for these next three games."