A nightmarish end to Mystics' season

Though Marissa Coleman, left, and the Mystics jumped out to an early lead, Atlanta seized momentum with a 26-0 first-half run.
Though Marissa Coleman, left, and the Mystics jumped out to an early lead, Atlanta seized momentum with a 26-0 first-half run. (Erik S. Lesser)
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By Kathy Orton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 28, 2010

ATLANTA - The Washington Mystics did a lot this season to earn respectability on the court. They set a franchise record for wins and earned the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

But when it came to the playoffs, it was the same old Mystics. Washington did nothing in the Eastern Conference semifinals to dispel its reputation for disappointing in the postseason.

The fourth-seeded Atlanta Dream was the latest to send Washington home early, winning 101-77, at Philips Arena before 7,890 on Friday night. Atlanta won the series, 2-0, and advances to the Eastern Conference finals against either the New York Liberty or the Indiana Fever.

Washington has lost eight consecutive playoff games. The Mystics haven't won in the postseason since Sept. 25, 2004. They haven't won a road playoff game since Aug. 17, 2002, at Charlotte.

"We didn't bring it in the playoffs," Washington Coach Julie Plank said. "That was a little bit disappointing, especially at the defensive end when that has been the staple. . . . We didn't have it in the last two games, but it's not going to take away from the season that we had. I'm very proud of our team."

Atlanta came into this series better known for its offense than its defense. But the reason the Dream is making its first appearance in the conference finals in its brief three-year history is because it completely took Washington out of its offense.

The Mystics, who made just 34.7 percent of their shots, went through several prolonged scoring droughts. Matee Ajavon scored 20 points, but they all came in the second half, long after the game was decided.

"I don't think we were taking accurate shots," Ajavon said. "They did a great job of rushing us into things we didn't want to do."

Not only could Washington not score, it couldn't stop Atlanta. The Dream had too many crafty scorers. Angel McCoughtry (21 points), Iziane Castro Marques (21 points) and Sancho Lyttle (20 points) had little trouble against the Mystics' defense.

Washington, which had held opponents to a league-low 73.3 points per game this season, allowed Atlanta to score 95 and 101 points against it in the playoffs, an average of 98 points per game.

"We didn't react for whatever reason," Plank said. "They really hurt us in transition, one-on-one. The pace was definitely to their advantage. . . . When they're scoring points and we're giving up such a high percentage shooting on their part, it gets deflating. They just kept coming at us and coming at us."

It was uncanny how much the start of this game resembled the start of Wednesday's. The away team made an unexpected lineup change and jumped out to a 9-0 lead. The only difference was the team wearing the road jerseys was the Mystics.

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