How Elizabeth Williams’ defense raises the bar for mystics

Sophie Washington forward Misha Heinz AllenIt was her birthday on Monday, and the team celebrated her by singing “Happy Birthday” at the airport on her way to play the Indiana Fever. But not every female teammate bought a gift from Hines-Allen to celebrate her big day.

“I’m new here, so I didn’t get it with anything”, Midfielder/Forward Elizabeth Williams To reporters after Tuesday’s game.

It doesn’t matter: Williams saved her court present in the form of a game-changing defensive effort in the Mystics’ 87-75 win. Williams picked up 10 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks in under 23 minutes off the bench, to complement the attack the Mystics had from the start. Ariel Atkins (28 points), Elena Delle Donne (19) and Natasha Cloud (16 points and nine assists). according to Her hop stats6’3 Williams was only 13The tenth The player in the 26-year history of the WNBA to post this baseline, the first to do so since 2019 and the second ever to do so without making a mistake.

“You can see why we got Elizabeth [in free agency]Head coach and general manager Mike Thibault said after the match.

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Tipo Occurred In February, Williams persuaded the 2017 WNBA All-Star to take a pay cut to join the Mystics deep roster designed to compete for a championship. Williams has spent the previous six seasons with Atlanta Dream and Average 9.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.3 assists per game. In particular, she has built a reputation as an elite defender and blocker: she was named to the league’s All-Defensive First Team in 2020 and currently ranks sixth in WNBA history in blocks per game and mass percentage.

“I’ve always respected her since she was a young player in college for her ability to talk about defense and kind of be that quarterback who sees everything in the back of the defense, to block shots, block the track and give us the presence,” Tibow told Williams’ preliminary press conference on February 1 “I think she’s pretty good at it. And I think the way you approach the defensive thing affects other players… With these types of players on our team, I think we can have a complete defensive unit.”

That vision of a complete defensive unit is beginning to come true, even though Williams missed his first five games due to outside commitments. mystics now Rank 3rd in the league in the defensive ranking, with only 94.1 points allowed per 100 possessions. On Tuesday, they were better, Allow 76.2 points per 100 possessions in the second half to overcome an early deficit of 11 points and improve to 7-3 this season.

Although the Mystics’ comeback didn’t fully take hold until the second half, Williams earned itself in the first quarter with two offensive rebounds and slipping back on the same possession. Then she closed in the paint by getting 13 defensive rebounds — four in the pivotal third quarter — to finish off the Indiana possessions and spur the Mystics attack.

“I tried, especially when I was sitting on the bench, to just bring the energy, and in the last game against Connecticut, we attacked like crazy. So my big focus was to bring the energy and the bounce of the ball and… to talk and just be in the paint,” Williams said. That’s really all I’ve been trying to do.”

“It was physical,” said the rookie Indiana forward Nalissa Smith, who managed only four rebounds throughout the match. “She smashed the boards, and she got the result she wanted.”

Washington Mystics center/Forward Elizabeth Williams (1) jumps in anticipation of a shot from Atlanta’s Dream forward Nas Helmon (00) during a game at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C., on May 24, 2022. (Photo: Domenic Allegra)

Other times, though, Williams didn’t bother waiting for the Indiana blunders to bounce back and banned them instead. her first block throttle A quick two-on-one fever break in the first quarter, Smith not only blocked cleanly but also controlled the ball to herself and pressed a pass to Cloud for a corner kick.

Several of Williams’ blocks came when she was the assisting defender, including one on the Fever goalkeeper Kelsey Mitchell With 47 seconds remaining in the first quarter. Mitchell overpowered the Mystics defense so often in the first half that Thibault changed his defensive coverage in the first half, but Williams saved the Mystics in this attempt by assisting Smith and blocking Mitchell’s direct shot.

Williams then had three blocks in the third quarter alone, one of which thwarted Pfeffer’s final possession. At this point, the Mystics had turned an eight-point deficit in the first half into a three-point lead, and Fever was looking for a basket to mitigate the damage. They didn’t get it, and the Mystics went on to win the fourth quarter by nine points.

“[Williams’ blocks] Tibow said the post-match. “It raises your entire defense because now you feel as guards that you can push a little bit more because you know you have good helpers behind you. … [She] It was [Indiana] Kind of thinking about getting to the edge a little bit in the second half.”

Williams put an exclamation point on the win with one final block with 59 seconds left. “The ban is one of my favorite parts of the game,” Williams said with a smile. “I mean, I just love him. I don’t care who he is — if I was short, if I was tall, I would try to stop him.”

But the veteran channels who zealously, managed to control the direction of their blocks and avoid mistakes. Instead of hitting the ball in the stands, Williams held all six of their blocks in the bounds on Tuesday, giving the Mystics six chances to gain possession. She grabbed two of them herself and a teammate rebounded the third, helping fuel 13 points for the Mystics’ quick-break.

In addition, despite giving up a few inches to some positions across the league, Williams not spoiled From a match since August 2019. Tuesday was no exception, as she made no mistakes.

When asked how she accomplished this feat, Williams said, “I’d like to say timing and know when to go for the blocks too. If I’m in a good position, I’ll go; if not, I’ll just try to wall-mount or no-interference or whatever. And some luck. Also, because mistakes happen sometimes. So a little bit of all that.”

Williams’ performance on Tuesday could have overshadowed her teammates’ offensive runs, from the height of Atkins’ season in points to Cloud’s anatomy of the Indiana defense. But her teammates, past and present, did not allow that to happen. Former Atlanta striker Brittany Brewer Describing Williams as a ‘back-zone keeper’ in an Instagram story, Daily Dawn wrote, ‘Some of these lumps almost wiped me out! [joy emoji]. “

“Protect your face,” Williams replied, using the same emoji.

Washington Mystics quarterback/striker Elizabeth Williams responds to the congratulations of Elena Delle Donne (left), Brittany Brewer (centre) and Alisha Clarke on her signature game May 31, 2022. (Steps from Williams’ Instagram Stories)

Through her first five matches with Mystics, Williams averages 2.0 pieces per game and blocks 10.7% of the opponent’s ridiculous 2-point shots while on the field. Those two numbers exceed her career averages, but even if Williams is just average by her standards, it gives the Mystics a fire-fighting presence like it didn’t exist many years ago. according to Her hop statsthe last Mystics player to match Williams’ career foul rate of 5.0% per season (minimum 10 games) and averaged at least one block per game that was Latoya Sanders in 2015.

Thibault smiled broadly when asked what this kind of inner existence would look like, and Atkins spoke about Williams’ influence from the guard’s perspective. She said, “It makes my life 100% easier, because I’m blind there. It’s so helpful and makes you feel more comfortable when you’re able to squeeze in knowing you’ve got your blocker like an E in the back, and it doesn’t soil the shot. But she hit them and they’re still tied up.” So it gives us extra chances on the other end as well.”

Williams’ defense on Tuesday helped the Mystics edge Fever by six points off goal and outnumber them by 11. But, as the early deficit showed, there is still room for improvement. Mystics often start games relatively slowly, allowing opponents to do so result 100.5 points per 100 possessions in the first quarters at 47.2% shot from the field and 48.9% from 3 point range. In the third quarters, in contrast, they allowed 85.7 points per 100 possessions on 37.3% shooting from the field and 24.5% from distance.

“We have a team with a lot of vets, a lot of experienced people, and unfortunately, we kind of set ourselves up [early deficits] Atkins said Tuesday. “So it’s about not losing our minds and not straying from the game plan when things head south.”

The first-quarter struggles may partly reflect Thibaut’s difficulty in strengthening his squad amid many player injuries and absences. Just Atkins I started every match; Nine players have started at least two matches each; and the wing Alisha ClarkThe All-Defensive Team, a two-time pick, missed six of the team’s 10 games due to a foot injury and a stint in WNBA health and safety protocols. Tebow is still trying to decide his favorite courses, to the point where there are no five players game Up to 30 minutes together this season.

The silver lining is that the team has plenty of depth to mess with, and that shone again on Tuesday with Williams – one of the current Mystics players who hasn’t started this season, although start 186 of 187 games with Atlanta. Her performance raised her season averages to 6.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 2.0 pieces at 18.0 minutes per game.

“I thought maybe the biggest difference in the game was the bench in the second half,” Thibault said, praising Williams’ defensive impact and dip into the reserve list.

With Mystics continuing to develop chemistry, they are expected to defend as they did in the third quarter on Tuesday for longer periods and prevent a slow start. They’ve started the season strong defensively, but as players like Williams make their way into the rotation and find their rhythm, the potential for more is clear.

Almost as obvious, this is what will happen to any Indiana player who drives to the edge on Tuesday against Williams.