The Mystics and Lynx just finished their morning shootarounds for tonight opener of the WNBA semifinal series (7 p.m., ESPN) at Williams Arena. Here are some tidbits gleaned from post-shoot interviews:
Turns out the Lynx might not be the only team moving venues. The Mystics play their games at Capital One Arena. But there will be a conflict there should the best-of-five series go to a fourth game. So that game — scheduled for a week from today — will have to be moved. Mystics coach Mike Thibault said the organization has been working for weeks to find a suitable replacement. It appears they are close to a decision on a venue, but have yet to announce it.
Elena Delle Donne — the Mystics high-scoring former league MVP — may be Minnesota’s No. 1 defensive job. But Kristi Toliver is a very close second.
She leads the Mystics in playoff games played — 25. And she knows what it’s like to play the Lynx in pressure-packed situations. Toliver was with Los Angeles last season when the Sparks beat the Lynx in a tense Finals Game 5 at Target Center.
So Toliver has become something of a mentor to some of her teammates. And she is definitely on Minnesota’s radar.
“She’s a different player with the Mystics,’’ Lynx guard Seimone Augustus said. “She’s a go-to player on that team.’’
In Los Angeles, Toliver was more of a complementary player behind stars Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike. With Washington Toliver is a key. She set a WNBA playoff record with nine three-pointers in Washington’s second-round win in New York, where the Liberty’s 10-game winning streak came to a crashing halt. Toliver scored 32 points in that game.
“Her experience is key,’’ Augustus said. “We have to put pressure on Kristi. She’s lethal from any spot on the floor, most definitely driving to her left on three-pointers.’’
Toliver, meanwhile, knows what it’s like to face the Lynx in a playoff atmosphere.
“No matter where they’re playing, the atmosphere is electrifying,’’ Toliver said. “So just dealing with that and understanding what’s at stake is important.’’
The Mystics are still without Minnesota native Tayler Hill, who was lost to a knee injury this summer. But the rest of the team is finally all healthy. You could see the difference in the Mystics, who finished the regular season 2-6, once the playoffs began.
“I think we’re feeling good about where we’re at,’’ Toliver said. “We’re continuing to build our chemistry with one another. I think we’re peaking at the right time. In some ways it’s like the situation we had in L.A. last year. We were going against the defending champs, and us never having been in a final before. It’s kind of the same feeling.’’
Washington coach Mike Thibault knows how intimidating Williams Arena can be. While with the Connecticut Sun, he scouted many, many games here during the 2003-04 season, when the Gophers went to the Final Four. The Sun drafted Lindsay Whalen with the fourth pick in the WNBA draft that spring. He’s also been in the arena broadcasting games for Big Ten Network.
“I know how loud this place can be,’’ he said. “And I’ve explained that to our team.’’
Thibault and Whalen grew close during her time with the Sun, which included two trips to the WNBA finals. Whalen became something of an adopted daughter to the Thibaults during the offseason following the 2004 run to the finals, when Whalen stayed in Connecticut following ankle surgery.
This will be the first time Thibault has coached against Whalen in a playoff game. “It’s weird,’’ he said. “Yes, it’s weird. I don’t even know what to think about it. I know how much it means to her, and she knows how much it means to me. So you just do your battle. Then, when it’s over, you congratulate each other.’’