Playoff Previews 2023: Round One — New York Liberty vs. Washington Mystics

The No. 2 New York Liberty and No. 7 Washington Mystics split the season series, two games apiece. Washington beat New York on May 19 (80-64) and September 10 (90-88); New York beat Washington on June 25 (89-88) and July 21 (96-87).


Series Schedule:

Game One: Mystics at Liberty, Friday, September 15th, 7:30 PM EST, ESPN2

Game Two – Mystics at Liberty, Tuesday, September 19th, 7:00 PM EST, ESPN

Game Three – if necessary – Liberty at Mystics, Friday, September 22nd, 8:00 PM EST, TBD


Matchups We Can’t Wait to Watch

MYLES: With Shakira Austin out for at least games one and two with a lingering hip injury, the Liberty could have a large advantage to exploit in the post. Yes, DC still has depth down low, with a rotation featuring Elena Delle Donne, Tianna Hawkins, Myisha Hines-Allen, and Queen Egbo, but if Jonquel Jones can assert herself on the glass, the Liberty are in good shape to take control of this series. It’s quite simple: in games where Jones pulled down at least 10 boards, the Liberty went 13-1; in games where JJ double-doubled, they won all 11 contests.

Correlating team success with rebounding holds true against the Mystics, as well: in New York’s two victories, they averaged 46.5 rebounds per game (RPG) (and 10.5 from Jones), while they secured just 38.0 RPG (and 7.0 from Jones) in the two defeats.

MATT: While many will point to Delle Donne versus Breanna Stewart as must-watch television, I’m going to pivot to another matchup that will be critical for the Mystics to win should they hope to upset the Liberty. The Mystics’ pick-and-roll game versus Betnijah Laney. 

The New York Liberty have been one of the best defensive teams all season, finishing third in the league in defensive rating (DRTG), but over the last 15 games of the regular season, they were first. Similarly, the Liberty finished fourth in points allowed per game (oppo PPG) for the season, but first in the last 15 games. There aren’t a lot of holes to exploit the Liberty defensively, but there might be one spot that could give them some fits. The Mystics graded out as excellent when the offensive facilitator operated out of the pick-and-roll, per Synergy Sports. They earned 0.823 points per possession (PPP), landing in the 83rd percentile. The only defender on the Liberty who isn’t at least average is Laney. Laney allowed 0.852 PPP,  grading out in the 27th percentile and “below average.” If Mystics guards Natasha Cloud and Brittney Sykes  can get switches and attack Laney off the dribble, this might give the Mystics just enough offensive momentum to steal the series.



MATT: The Mystics have struggled all season with staying healthy so, for me, that’s where I’m looking. The Mystics not only need to be healthy, but they also need to learn how to gell quickly together. While the starters have had some run together this season, the playoffs require a different level of play. Each play will earn exceptional levels of scrutiny, and communication and effective movement on both sides of the ball will be paramount to the Mystics’ success. All of this hinges on not just their players being out there, but being able to perform at or near their top level of play. The Liberty won’t feel bad for the Mystics and will assuredly not cut them any slack or take them for granted, especially after Sykes’ miracle heave beat them in the regular season finale. If the Mystics are back close to at full strength, they will be the lower-seeded team the Liberty least wanted to face in the first round.

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MYLES: While it might seem wild to call an MVP candidate the X-Factor in this series, the Mystics have done a spectacular job slowing Breanna Stewart this season. In fact, only two teams in the WNBA held Stewart below 20 points per game (PPG) this year: the Las Vegas Aces (18.0 PPG) and these Mystics (15.8 PPG). On top of that, Stewart has compiled just 32.8/14.3/90.9 splits, and she’s uncharacteristically missed her share of open shots. 

Courtney Vandersloot thinks the team can help find Stewart in advantageous positions on the floor to get her some easier looks. “A lot of people shoot lower percentages against Washington. They’re tough one through five. We’ve got to capitalize on her switches, if they’re gonna switch and put guards on her. As good defenders as those guards are, they shouldn’t be able to defend Stewie,” Vandersloot said. “She got good looks last time. I think that we can take those looks again, and she’s gonna knock them down. We have to play the percentages. She always finds a way, but we’ve got to try and make things easier on her.” 

If New York can find easy buckets for Stewart, especially early, everything will open up offensively.


Bold Prediction

MYLES: This has picked up steam as the upset pick of the first round, but the Liberty roll at home. Game one is a blowout ahead of the Barclays crowd, before game two gets close, but this series never makes it to a winner-take-all in DC.

MATT: While many are expecting a very tight series, I’m going to say each game is won by 10 or more points. If the Mystics aren’t fully healthy, then it stands to reason the Liberty can dominate, regular season finale not excluded. The Liberty have also had some lapses at different points in the year, and it’s entirely possible we see another game like the regular season opener where they shoot 22 percent from distance.

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