Before being named coach of the Washington Mystics in December, Mike Thibault had led the Connecticut Sun to eight WNBA playoff appearances in 10 seasons. So when his new team secured a spot in the postseason for the first time in four years Tuesday night, he treated the milestone as standard operating procedure.
Rather than an over-the-top speech in the locker room following a 69-67 road victory over the Indiana Fever, Thibault instead offered modest congratulations before reminding his players the postseason needs to be an expectation rather than simply a reward.
“I have a little different perspective maybe than the organization in the sense that I’m kind of spoiled,” Thibault said, referring to his success with the Sun. “So when I said to people around here at the start of the year, ‘We have a shot at making the playoffs,’ they all kind of looked at me like, you know, ‘How about first step is we win more than five games?’ ”
That was the Mystics’ victory total last season. It took just 11 games for Washington to match that his year and 13 to surpass it. With two games left in the regular season, the Mystics (15-17) are within reach of finishing with a .500 regular season record for just the second time since 2007. They host the Sun on Friday night and will be either the No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the playoffs.
Only three current Mystics — Monique Currie, Crystal Langhorne and Matee Ajavon — were with the team for its last playoff appearance in 2010. Thibault reshaped the rest of the roster when he arrived as both the coach and general manager, adding much needed stability in the back court with starting point guard Ivory Latta and fortifying the interior with Kia Vaughn and Michelle Snow. He also drafted off-guard Tayler Hill and center Emma Meesseman.
“We definitely have accomplished something being that we won only five games last year and six the previous,” said Currie, the Mystics’ third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder. “It’s definitely an accomplishment for us to be in the playoffs, yet I don’t think we’re just satisfied with just making the playoffs. We want to go in and win games in the playoffs.”
The Mystics haven’t done that since 2004, when they won the first game of a three-game series against the Thibault-coached Sun. Washington was swept in the postseason in 2006, ’09 and ’10.
Langhorne recalls those last two series well. The two-time WNBA all-star was Washington’s leading rebounder in 2009 when the Mystics lost to the Fever in the playoffs. Langhorne led Washington in scoring and rebounding a year later when it fell to Atlanta in the postseason.
This year, Langhorne is first in rebounding and second in scoring. She also contributed double-digit points in each of three straight wins in early August that helped the Mystics steady themselves after four losses in a row dealt a blow to their playoff standing.
Washington closed last month by winning five of seven.
“We have to win games to get in,” Langhorne said. “I think after those losses, we just reevaluated some things and focused on things we needed to get better at.”