At the start of the Eastern Conference playoffs, Washington Mystics Coach Mike Thibault addressed his club’s lack of a proven, go-to player he could trust with the game on the line. The Mystics’ first-round opponent, meanwhile, had one of the most accomplished in Tamika Catchings.
Washington had few answers Saturday night for the Indiana Fever’s eight-time all-star forward, whose three-pointer in overtime gave the 2012 WNBA champions the lead for good with 94 seconds to play. At the other end in the final minute, the youthful Mystics had disjointed possessions that yielded an 81-76 season-ending loss in Game 2 at Verizon Center.
Playing with seven players who are either rookies or in their second seasons, the Mystics lost in the first round for a second straight time after missing the postseason in 2011 and ‘12. Last year, Washington beat the reigning Eastern Conference champion Atlanta Dream in Game 1 before losing two in a row.
“We don’t look at our youth as a reason why we lost, but we do look at it as what a bright future our group has,” said reserve guard Kara Lawson, a 12-year veteran who nearly by herself kept Washington competitive with a season-high 20 points. “All of our young players are hungry, they’re positive, they really want to be good in this league.”
Reserve forward Tianna Hawkins added 13 points and four rebounds, but robust performances from several bench players were far from enough to counter wayward shooting from the starting lineup. Washington’s first five shot a combined 10 for 32, and the starting back court of Ivory Latta and Bria Hartley collectively missed 12 of 15 shots.
Latta finished with 12 points after leading the Mystics with 22 in Thursday’s 78-73 Game 1 loss at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Saturday, the two-time all-star shot 0 for 7 from three-point range, marking the first time this season she has failed to make one.
“They trapped her, made her give it up,” Thibault said. “They just harassed her all over the court. When that happens, you have to have other people step up. We made some bad decisions.”
Catchings, on the other hand, had 26 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals. Her three-pointer in overtime made her the WNBA’s all-time leader in playoff scoring. Following that basket, center Erlana Larkins scored on a layup, and Catchings made two more foul shots for a 79-74 lead with 21 seconds to play.
The Mystics had the ball with 19 seconds left in regulation when rookie center Stefanie Dolson inbounded to Latta, who surveyed the court while Briann January guarded her just beyond the three-point arc. Latta began moving to the basket with seven seconds left, but January forced a difficult jumper that didn’t hit the rim as time expired.
Washington led for virtually all of the fourth quarter thanks in large part to Hawkins, who scored the first nine points. Her three-pointer with 7 minutes 12 seconds to play provided the Mystics with a 56-53 lead, and after her third straight layup, Washington was in front, 62-57.
The Fever tied it one minute later when Catchings made a pair of foul shots and January sank a three-pointer. The teams traded one basket and two foul shots the rest of the way before Latta’s bid to win it came up short.
“Over the course of the season I think everyone can agree we learned a lot and we improved a lot,” Hawkins said. “I think that’s good looking toward next season. We know we have a lot to prove next year, and we just want to come back stronger.”