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Finally in the spotlight, the Washington Mystics surrendered home-court advantage in the WNBA playoffs

By Mike Wise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 26, 2010; 12:12 AM

Great. Beautiful. Just swell.

I am finally geeked up to attend an entire, 40-minute WNBA game - which for a lot of my colleagues in town is the work equivalent of visiting your in-laws - and they blow it.

Big time. They just flat-out give up home-court advantage in one of those best-of-three series where sometimes you never see the home team again after they lose.

Oh, the Mystics put up a fight at the end. And the crowd was crazy and everything when Marissa Coleman started making shots out of her ear, resuscitating Washington like she used to resuscitate Maryland in NCAA regional semifinals.

But they didn't really hit the boards - they tickled them, giving up second and third shots like they were Skittles.

They didn't really play defense - they signed non-aggression pacts with Atlanta Dream players driving to the basket.

I wanted to see someone lay some wood on somebody, plant a babe on the hardwood, put a forearm in someone's trachea. Not some layup drill in the first half by the visiting team.

And as soon as it was over - Julie Plank's mostly resilient team took too long to wake up and now is one loss in Atlanta on Friday from going home for the season after going on a six-game winning streak to steal the top seed in the Eastern Conference - a stark realization came to mind:

The streak is intact. I still have not seen it happen yet.

I should explain.

As big venues go, Verizon Center - the House That Abe Built and Ted Took Over - has been very good to me.

George Mason beat a roster of NBA players to go to the Final Four here in 2006, still the most surreal live event I have covered in this town.

I saw Michael Jordan grow old on this court, LeBron James come of age and Gilbert Arenas literally drop jaws by dropping bombs - waking a team as much as a town, hitting all nylon from 35 feet.

From Alex Ovechkin, there have been things I did not know a human could do on ice skates, nights when the Red was indeed Rocked and the person next to me opened their mouth but I could not hear them speak.

And that's just the job.

Free John Mayer tickets last spring, the National Powwow of American Indians in 2007.

The good money I paid for Jay-Z, who brought along a very polite linguist that evening named Young Jeezy. (Let me tell you, this Mr. Jeezy fellow really loves him some D.C.)

From the Not-Proud-to-Admit File: I took a picture next to the original Darth Vader costume on the concession level last month and actually felt bad for C-3PO, who had to narrate "Star Wars in Concert" all by himself.

Good times, though.

But what I haven't seen since 2004 at Verizon Center: a home playoff victory by the WNBA team. If you throw in the three years the Washington Mystics were not included in the postseason, that's 0 for six years.

When Coleman came off the bench and started putting her shoulder into anyone who was guarding her, when everything she was throwing up was going in, when the most emotional player on the roster began defiantly shaking her head as if to say, "You can't stop this" - and the siren shrieks of 10,000-plus began to believe - the unthinkable was right there in front of them.

Down 17 points in the third quarter and trailing by 10 with just 10 minutes left, the Mystics had used this game as a microcosm for their season. Just like they trudged on after their star Alana Beard was lost for the season, they found a way back into an unsightly first-round playoff game that began as a fitful slumber.

Yes, the Mystics couldn't stop the ball early, giving up layups as if they were promotional T-shirts fired from an air gun.

They couldn't stop Angel McCoughtry, Iziane Castro Marques and a true-grit guard named Coco Miller, who used to play in Washington for eight years. And no one could solve a zone that discombobulated an offense that kept settling for jumpers.

But Plank's team plodded on, began to find its desire before it was over and came very close to turning the building on its head.

Until Atlanta found its own resolve and put away the home team, finding a way to put Washington on the brink.

Now it's the prospect of one and done for the Mystics, who worked too hard not to bring the series back here for a deciding Game 3 late Sunday afternoon.

Maybe that will be the game when the streak ends, when they win their first home playoff game since 2004.

Matter of fact, I have not been to any pro basketball playoff game in more than two years here in which the home team won. That's the last time the Wizards beat the Cavaliers here, when LeBron James just kind of took a bus transfer to the rim while everyone watched.

And the only thing in his way was DeShawn "It's On" Stevenson and some 17-year-old kid with a hit song who he asked to have his back that night in the stands. Gosh, I miss Soulja Boy.

That reminds me. The Mystics could use a mascot like that.

Seriously. If they can bring this thing back from Atlanta somehow, they could really use some help in Game 3.

I'm not talking about Coleman off the bench or Crystal Langhorne in the post. I'm talkin' Young Jeezy. He love him some Mystics just like he love him some D.C.

Really.

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