Mystics Clinch a Berth in Playoffs

By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 13, 2009

Having never made the WNBA playoffs in her professional career, point guard Lindsey Harding entered Saturday night's game ready to carry the Washington Mystics on her back to keep their postseason hopes alive.

Harding asked to guard the Atlanta Dream's leading scorer Iziane Castro Marques because she wanted to shoulder the responsibility of shutting down the sharpshooter with a 41.6 percent success rate from the field. As Washington's metronome, she pushed the tempo while maintaining her patience on offensive possessions.

"I've never been in this position in the WNBA where I can control if we're going to the playoffs or not," Harding said. "All day, I was so excited for this game. I wanted to win. I've had losing seasons [in my career]. So to have a chance to go to the playoffs, it's just such a real thrill."

Harding's undeniable energy resulted in a game-high 25 points in addition to four assists and four rebounds as the third-year guard led the Mystics to an 82-64 win over Atlanta. The victory, combined with Chicago's 80-69 loss to Detroit on Saturday, secures Washington the fifth playoff berth in franchise history and its first trip to the postseason since 2006.

Because the Mystics (16-17) own tiebreakers against Chicago (16-18) they have clinched the No. 4 seed regardless of how they fare against New York at 4 p.m. Sunday at Madison Square Garden. Washington will face top-seeded Indiana (22-11), which swept the season series, 4-0, this year.

"It feels really good just to know how hard we worked," said rookie Marissa Coleman, who finished with 10 points, one of three additional Mystics to reach double digits. "The playoffs were one of our goals coming into the season and it was still in our reach."

Having already clinched a playoff spot Friday night with its win over Connecticut, the Dream (18-16) appeared to lack focus against the motivated Mystics. Rookie Angel McCoughtry led Atlanta with 19 points and 13 rebounds.

The importance of this contest to the Mystics however, was readily apparent from the opening tip-off.

Washington shot an impressive 66.7 percent (10 of 14) and were perfect on all six of their free throw attempts in the first quarter. It played smooth transition basketball in that opening frame and showed patience on its offensive possessions rather than forcing shots.

"We were shooting well all week," Harding said. "We were hitting a lot of shots. [Coleman] hit a couple back to back that were big for us and I was feeling good the whole time. It was important for us to just take our time and look for open shots because they were denying a ton to try to make us turn the ball over."

Although the flawless play wouldn't continue unabated, the Mystics defense stepped up to hold the second-highest scoring team in the WNBA to its lowest point total of the season. A large part of that defensive effort stemmed from center Chasity Melvin (12 points) being able to hold 6-foot-5 center Erika de Souza (six points) to single-digit scoring for just the second time in eight games and from Harding's efforts against Castro Marques.

In the previous seven games Castro Marques posted at least 18 points five times, she had scored 26 or more on three occasions during that same stretch. Harding helped limit her to 17 points on 6-of-17 shooting.

"Lindsey Harding, what can I say about her? She's a winner. She was so excited to being close to making that playoff and it showed," Coach Julie Plank said. "She wanted to start on Izzy Castro Marques and she was on a mission to shut her down."

-- SHOCK 80, SKY 69: Shavonte Zellous scored 20 points and Deanna Nolan added 19 to lead Detroit to a win over visiting Chicago, eliminating the Sky (16-18) from playoff contention.

Kara Braxton added 14 points for Detroit (18-16), which will play Atlanta in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

-- STORM 64, SILVER STARS 55: Shannon Johnson scored 16 points and Janell Burse added 15 to lead Seattle (20-14) to a road win over San Antonio (15-19).

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