The game time was different and there were more fans in the stands thanks to thousands of screaming children in attendance for camp day. But when the final horn sounded Tuesday afternoon at Verizon Center, the scene was all too familiar for the Washington Mystics.
After falling behind by double digits early only to make a game of things late, the Mystics couldn’t deliver when it counted most in their final home game before a three-week Olympic break, losing to the Connecticut Sun, 77-70.
It was Washington’s third straight defeat and its eighth loss in the past nine games. The unavoidable question after this latest setback, though, was if the Mystics (3-13) will ever right a ship that has seen anything but smooth sailing.
“It gets frustrating because these teams are easily beatable,” said guard Matee Ajavon. “It’s within us to just overcome any obstacle that’s making us not win these games. . . . We just have to do it.”
Led by a 15-point, nine-rebound showing from forward Crystal Langhorne, the Mystics had five players in double figures. But the difference in Tuesday’s loss, Coach Trudi Lacey noted, came down to Washington’s inability to get defensive stops down the stretch.
The Mystics trailed by just three with less than four minutes remaining after forward Monique Currie capped an 8-0 run with a runner in the lane. But Connecticut proceeded to score on six of its final seven possessions, including some clutch free throws from West Springfield grad Kara Lawson (game-high 17 points).
Behind their bench, the Sun also had a 15-2 run that spanned the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth quarter after Washington had taken its first lead of the game on an Ajavon three-pointer. Connecticut also got 16 points and eight rebounds from forward Tina Charles.
Connecticut (13-4) is currently atop the Eastern Conference standings and improved to 3-0 against Washington this season. But coming off an embarrassing 16-point defeat on Sunday to Tulsa, the WNBA’s worst team this season, the Mystics tried to turn Tuesday into a positive.
“We just have to compete like that every night,” Lacey said. “Obviously it’s taken a little longer than we hoped, but we’ve seen signs of it all season long.”
Not all was well in the Mystics’ locker room, though.
After Ajavon scored 10 points in the first quarter when the Sun threatened to blow the game wide open by making 11 of its first 12 shots, she was relegated to the bench for the majority of the fourth quarter. Lacey explained that it was part of a larger defensive adjustment that involved using bigger guards on the perimeter.
In a loss to San Antonio last Friday, Ajavon also sat for most of the second half. Lacey told reporters it was due to an injury, a claim Ajavon refuted in the locker room after the game.
Even so, center Michelle Snow shared Lacey’s optimism. After she scored 10 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, Snow described the team’s chemistry as “unbelievable” and predicted the Mystics would look back on this loss as a turning point.
They face the Sun again Wednesday in Connecticut.
“This is what you build on,” Snow said. “Tomorrow will be a test to see if we come back and play the exact same way, if we’re learning our lesson as far as coming out and being ready to play.”
●FEVER 84, LIBERTY 82: Tamika Catchings scored 23 points, including the winning free throws with 8.4 seconds left, to lift host Indiana.
Katie Douglas scored 20 points and Shavonte Zellous added 12 as the Fever (10-6) squandered a 12-point lead and trailed by four in the final minutes before rallying.
Cappie Pondexter scored a season-high 33 points and Essence Carson added 14 for New York (6-11), which has lost two straight and six of nine.
●LYNX 107, SHOCK 86: Candice Wiggins scored 25 points, Maya Moore had 24 and visiting Minnesota used an 18-2 run to pull away in the fourth quarter.
Seimone Augustus added 17 points, Lindsay Whalen had 14 and Taj McWilliams-Franklin 12 for the Lynx (13-4). Wiggins and Moore both shot 8 for 12 from the field, with Wiggins going 6 for 9 on three-pointers.
Ivory Latta led Tulsa (3-13) with 25 points on 10-for-14 shooting, including 5 for 8 from three-point range.
●SPARKS 90, MERCURY 71: In Phoenix, Candace Parker had 22 points and 14 rebounds to lead Los Angeles to its fourth straight win.
Kristi Tolliver added 19 points and six assists and Nneka Ogwumike had 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Sparks (14-6). Parker also had four assists and three blocks.
DeWanna Bonner and rookie Sammy Prahalis both had 14 points and seven rebounds to lead the Mercury (4-14).