Inside the Washington Mystics’ locker room minutes after the final buzzer sounded Wednesday night, guard Natasha Lacy giggled as she described a missed three-pointer during the second half to a smiling Noelle Quinn. Assistant coach Jennifer Gillom even let out a laugh remembering the sequence.
Never mind that the Mystics had just lost to the Minnesota Lynx, 79-77, after Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen scored the decisive basket on a putback lay-in with one second remaining in the fourth quarter. Because if there is such a thing as an encouraging loss, Washington suffered one in front of a sparse crowd at Verizon Center.
Trailing by 24 points in the first half against the undefeated defending WNBA champions, the Mystics (1-2) roared back and even took the lead twice in the waning moments of the fourth quarter. Guard Matee Ajavon led the charge with 20 points, including 14 after halftime, but Washington simply dug itself too big of a hole.
“We never quit,” Coach Trudi Lacey said. “In a lot of ways, we simply ran out of time. We didn’t lose the game.”
Minnesota’s two former No. 1 picks, Maya Moore and Seimone Augustus, finished with 16 and 15 points, respectively, for the Lynx. Former Georgetown forward Rebekkah Brunson also had 16 points, doing much of her damage during a first half that saw Minnesota shoot a scorching 65.6 percent from the field.
The Lynx (5-0) built a commanding lead during a 24-2 run that spanned the first and second quarters, beating the Mystics down the floor in transition and dominating the offensive glass. Washington went more than seven minutes without a field goal during that stretch and trailed, 51-31, at halftime.
But sparked by improved defense and the play of Crystal Langhorne (12 points), Quinn (13 points on 3-of-4 shooting from three-point range) and Ajavon, the Mystics embarked on a 21-4 run at the end of the third quarter, turning what appeared to be a blowout loss into a tightly contested affair down the stretch.
The Mystics then opened the fourth quarter with another 10-0 surge, and when Ajavon hit a jumper from the top of the key with 6 minutes 27 seconds remaining, the score was suddenly tied at 68 and the crowd roared its approval for the first time all night.
“The play on the court just inspired everyone,” Quinn said. “We showed we can play with the best of the best.”
Forward Michelle Snow gave the Mystics a 73-72 lead less than two minutes later when she scored her 3,000th career WNBA point. Whalen responded with a baseline jumper for Minnesota, but Snow came right back with another basket to regain the lead.
Whalen countered again, this time with three free throws on the next two possessions, but Langhorne hit a layup to tie the score at 75 with less than 26 seconds remaining.
But the Mystics would end up one rebound short of pulling off a dramatic comeback. On the game-winning possession, Moore missed two three-pointers, and Augustus missed a third. But the Lynx came up with the offensive rebound after each shot, and then a fourth time when Whalen put back her own miss to seal the victory.
That, though, seemed to matter little as Gillom left the locker room singing the chorus of the popular Flo Rida song, “Good Feeling” that had played in the arena minutes earlier: “Oh, Oh sometimes, I got a good feeling,” she sang, the smile still on her face.
●SKY 77, SILVER STARS 63: Sylvia Fowles had 23 points and 12 rebounds, helping visiting Chicago (2-1) dominate smaller San Antonio (1-2) for a victory .
The Sky used its height advantage to rally and take control of the game. San Antonio started 6-foot-1 forwards Sophia Young and Danielle Adams against 6-6 Fowles and 6-5 Ruth Riley.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.