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Melvin and Beard Combine for 30 Points, Mystics Win

Mystics 67, Sun 59

By Greg Sandoval
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 26, 2004; Page E01

Maybe the Connecticut Sun would like proof of the Washington Mystics' true identity, perhaps a review of dental records and birth certificates.

The Mystics squad the Sun handled relatively easily in three of four games bore no resemblance to the club that won, 67-59, yesterday at MCI Center in the first game of the best-of-three WNBA Eastern Conference semifinals.

Washington's Alana Beard (13 points) drives around Connecticut's Taj McWilliams-Franklin. Chasity Melvin led Mystics with 17 points, 11 rebounds. (Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)

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"They are a lot more aggressive," said Sun forward Nykesha Sales, who was held to four points on 1-of-9 shooting. "Everyone over there is playing good basketball."

At the top of that list for the Mystics are forward Chasity Melvin (game-high 17 points, 11 rebounds) and rookie guard Alana Beard (13 points, 5 assists). Both struggled early in the season, toiling in the shadow of three-time all-star and former Olympian Chamique Holdsclaw.

When Holdsclaw left the team because of an undisclosed medical condition, however, Beard and Melvin emerged. Melvin became a strong inside presence and Beard came on as an outside threat. The combination led the Mystics to a five-game winning streak late in the season to get them in the playoffs.

"We are like sisters now," Beard said. "It wasn't like that at the beginning. Now when we are on the court, we are out there fighting for each other."

The emergence of Beard and Melvin and Washington's new commitment to a swarming-style defense and an offense predicated on finding the open shooter no matter who it is has led to a completely overhauled attack. The Mystics finished with four players in double figures, including 10 points from second-year player Aiysha Smith.

"Our players dedicated themselves to try and play as hard as they could the last eight games," Washington Coach Michael Adams said. "They decided as a group that they were going to bust their tails and let the chips fall where they may."

When the Mystics lost the offense of Holdsclaw (19 points per game), Adams quickly realized his team was unlikely to win by exchanging baskets with opponents. The key to the their success, Adams told his team, was to protect the basket.

The Mystics held the Sun to 21-of-59 shooting, including 21.4 percent (3 of 14) from beyond the three-point line.

Rookie Lindsay Whalen led the Sun with 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting.

In the first half, the Mystics did what they wanted early. They got the ball inside to Melvin, who scored six points off a combination of post moves and left-handed layups and helped Washington to a 24-12 lead with 7 minutes 14 seconds to go in the half. On defense, the Mystics forced the Sun to shoot from the perimeter. Connecticut missed 15 of its first 20 shots.

Former Mystics forward Asjha Jones then checked into the game and scored eight unanswered points to cut Washington's lead to four. Jones finished with 14 points.

The Sun trimmed its deficit to four before Smith sparked the Mystics to a 12-4 run late in the second half, hitting a three-pointer with a little more than four minutes left to put the Mystics up 11.

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