By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 31, 2009
In the strictest sense the Washington Mystics got exactly what they -- a team clinging to postseason hopes -- needed Sunday afternoon with a win over the Minnesota Lynx at Verizon Center to put themselves back in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The lasting image of Washington's 81-75 victory won't be one of the final score though, but rather one of all-star guard Alana Beard being carried off the court with a sprained left ankle in the fourth quarter.
Beard had pulled up for a jump shot when she collided with Minnesota's Candice Wiggins, who was called for a foul on the play with 3 minutes 8 seconds remaining in regulation. As players regrouped, Beard remained on the floor clutching her left ankle, unable to stand.
Silence fell over the crowd of 12,241 as Nakia Sanford and athletic trainer Navin Hettiarachchi carried Beard to the bench, where she remained for the rest of the contest. It is unclear if Beard, who rolled her right ankle while playing against Seattle on Aug. 25, will miss any games.
"She's playing through a lot of pain right now," Coach Julie Plank said. "I know she would give anything to be out there. The most important thing for our team is that they're 100 percent healthy. It's a good thing we don't play until Thursday. So [she'll] take three days off and you have to get healthy for the games."
Beard's injury provided some sobering reminder of the resolve necessary for the Mystics (14-15) to reach the postseason on a day when Washington leapfrogged back into the tightly contested Eastern Conference playoff race. The win, combined with New York's 77-63 victory against Chicago (14-16), guaranteed that the Mystics will start the week in third place after Sunday night's Los Angeles win, 91-81, over Connecticut (14-16).
"It definitely feels good to control our own destiny," forward Marissa Coleman said. "We don't have to worry about whether another team wins or loses. As long as we keep winning we'll be in the playoff picture. This one was huge to start off these last six games."
After a disappointing 1-3 performance on their West Coast road trip, Washington appeared to find cures for many of its recent ailments when it returned home for the first time in two weeks against the struggling Lynx (12-17), which has won just two games in August.
The Mystics snapped out of their offensive slump as six players -- Crystal Langhorne (18), Beard (13), Chasity Melvin (11), Coleman (11), Matee Ajavon (11) and Lindsey Harding (10) -- posted double-digit scoring totals. They overcame a 5-for-18 start in the first quarter, outrebounded Minnesota, 35-23, and scored on 75 percent of their free throws.
Trailing by four at halftime, Washington entered the third quarter seeking to disrupt Minnesota's guards and reign in their three-point shooting. The Mystics went back to pushing the ball in transition, and were rewarded as Langhorne and Melvin, who combined for 20 of the team's 33 points in the frame, both got hot in the post.
The offensive flow continued throughout the second half and looked no better than when Beard flung a long pass to Coleman on the opposite wing who one-touched the ball over to a wide open Harding for a three-pointer that gave Washington its largest lead at 72-56 with 8:04 left in regulation.
But then the Mystics' lead shrunk to single digits. Beard's injury interrupted their rhythm. And Washington didn't hit another field goal until Harding scored on a jump shot with 1:09 remaining.
The Mystics held steady down the stretch though, hitting free throws and snagging rebounds in the final minute to maintain the advantage.
"I feel like on the West Coast nothing was working for us," Coleman said. "Hopefully it's a matter of everything finally coming together at the perfect time."