Mystics Fall to Fever, 88-79, in Playoff Opener
Friday, September 18, 2009
In each of the Washington Mystics' losses to the Indiana Fever during the regular season, Indiana's experience always overpowered Washington's youth. Regardless of how much moxie the Mystics brought to court, the Fever could force them to crack in the fourth quarter.
Thursday night at the University of Maryland's Comcast Center was no different. Despite trailing for most of the contest, the veteran-laden Fever used a 32-point fourth quarter to capture a 88-79 win over the Mystics in Game 1 of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series. It was Indiana's fifth straight win over Washington this season.
Indiana opened the fourth quarter with an 11-0 run to construct a nine-point advantage after trailing by two at the start of the frame. Although the Mystics were able to close the gap on the scoreboard to three points with a three-point play by center Chasity Melvin with just less than two minutes remaining in regulation they couldn't find a stop, made countless errors and allowed the Fever's multifaceted offense to leave them in the dust.
"We have to find the way to finish the game. Our fourth quarter the last two games have not been good," Mystics Coach Julie Plank said. "Our defense was there for three quarters but it was not there in the fourth. We have to find a way to fix that."
At the beginning of the game Washington benefited from the adrenaline of former Terrapins Crystal Langhorne and Marissa Coleman. Their enthusiasm for returning to College Park permeated the team and the pair combined for 19 points and seven rebounds by halftime. Langhorne finished with a team-high 18 points, while Coleman finished with 16.
In the early going, it was as though the Mystics had found a way to beat Indiana, which entered the playoffs with a league-best 10.9 steals per contest, at its own game. The Fever committed an uncharacteristic 12 turnovers in the first half and was unable to find any means of thwarting Langhorne in the post. Washington's second-year forward went 5 for 6 and added five rebounds as she led the Mystics into the break with a 43-39 edge.
All-stars Katie Douglas and Tamika Catchings were the only scorers for Indiana in the second quarter and the Fever knew it had adjustments to make.
"We changed some of the assignments" in the second half, Fever Coach Lin Dunn said. "We tried [Tammy] Sutton-Brown on Langhorne and then tried Catchings on her because she was certainly causing us some problems. She was really awesome in the first half we were really focusing on how to limit her touches."
With Catchings, a candidate for league MVP who continued her domination of the Mystics with 26 points -- two off her season high, which also came against Washington, now guarding Langhorne, Indiana had found a way to keep her in check and slowly wrestle the game from Washington's grasp.
In the third quarter, Indiana's momentum and strength gradually grew.
In addition to the offensive threats of Catchings and Douglas (19 points) the Fever capitalized off the energy of a younger option as rookie point guard Briann January played more than 14 minutes in the second half and scored all of her 16 points in the latter portion of the contest. January pushed the tempo and was able to penetrate the Mystics' defense on one possession after another. When she wasn't able to reach the rim, January drew fouls, leading Indiana's nearly flawless outing at the free throw line (23 of 26) by sinking all eight of her attempts.
"This isn't the only game we've done this, this is deja vu all over again," said Lindsey Harding, who had 11 points and three assists. "We just have to be able to be physically and mentally strong to fight in the fourth quarter. It's almost as if they're playing hard but then they turn it on to another level. We have the capability to do that, we just need to learn and do it."
Mystics Note: Langhorne was presented with the 2009 WNBA Most Improved Player of the Year Award during a pregame ceremony. Langhorne received 16 of 40 votes for the award and Atlanta's Sancho Lyttle was the second-place vote getter with six. It was a full Maryland reunion at the Comcast Center as former Terrapins and current WNBA players Laura Harper (Sacramento) and Kristi Toliver (Chicago) also returned to College Park.