The Washington Mystics played two very different halves last night, but so did the Detroit Shock. Unfortunately for the Mystics, the Shock was at its best after halftime, making 77 percent of its shots en route to a 78-68 victory before 13,600 fans -- including Vice President Gore -- at MCI Center.

The Mystics, who played without injured forward Chamique Holdsclaw, held a 29-24 halftime lead after a dismal start by the Shock, which shot 22 percent in the opening period. But Detroit made nine of its first 10 shots to open the second, taking a 42-36 lead. A three-pointer by Rita Williams cut the lead to 63-55 with 4 minutes 51 seconds left, but baskets by Jennifer Azzi and Sandy Brondello put it out of reach.

"This one really hurts," said the Mystics' Nikki McCray, who scored a game-high 18 points. "This was a game that should have been ours. We . . . let it slip away. It's something that continues to happen to us. . . . When they jumped on us in the second half, we fell apart."

The loss ended the Mystics' first two-game winning streak in team history. Holdsclaw watched the game from the bench in street clothes, with a splint on the left index finger she broke in Wednesday's All-Star Game. She is expected to miss at least a week and was replaced in the starting lineup last night by Markita Aldridge, who played McCray's guard position.

"With Chamique in there, we had a different combination of people on the floor," Mystics Coach Nancy Darsch said. "We had a smaller lineup out there [tonight]. It was sloppy execution -- plain and simple. We didn't have great shots and we struggled executing our plays the entire game."

Washington (5-10) took a 27-17 lead on the strength of its inside play and Detroit's poor shooting. Mystics forward Murriel Page scored a game-high 18 points and had 10 rebounds, including seven in the first half. The Shock (7-8) made 8 of 36 field goal attempts in the first half, missing 14 consecutive attempts.

The Mystics could not capitalize enough on Detroit's misfiring. McCray and Monica Maxwell missed shots, and Shalonda Enis (six points, five fouls) shot an air ball on a free throw that could have given Washington an 11-point lead with 4:48 left in the half.

"We shot 22 percent in the first half and I went in the locker room and said, `We've shot the worst first half that we have all year and we're only down by five. We should be down 25,' " Detroit Coach Nancy Lieberman-Cline said. "We had to go in there and adjust our game."

Shock guard Korie Hlede began the second half with a short jumper to cut the lead to three, and the Shock hit seven more shots in a row to take a 40-36 lead.

"I have no idea how we did it," said Azzi, who scored 11 of her 16 points in the second half. "It's a matter of keeping confidence. They really stepped up in the first half without [Holdsclaw], but down the stretch they really needed her."

The Mystics countered with eight turnovers and 12 offensive fouls in the second half, which left Darsch screaming at the referees.

About the officiating, Darsch said: "I need an interpretation on what's an offensive foul, that's what I need. Because obviously some of our players are getting called for offensive fouls too frequently in my mind."

The Mystics' offense couldn't keep up with Detroit's shooting, missing seven straight shots. Azzi said the Shock had figured out the Mystics' offensive plays. It was another missed opportunity for the Mystics, who play seven of their next nine games on the road.

"We had this game and it should have been ours," McCray said. "What we should have proven tonight is that we were very capable of winning this game."

STING 56, MIRACLE 50: Dawn Staley scored 23 points to lead Charlotte past host Orlando. Staley made 9 of 15 shots as the Sting shot 43 percent from the field.

MONARCHS 85, ROCKERS 71: Yolanda Griffith scored seven of her 22 points during a first-half spurt that led visiting Sacramento over Cleveland -- its fifth win in eight games.

COMETS 88, STARZZ 84: Sheryl Swoopes scored 25 of her career-high 33 points in the second half and Cynthia Cooper added 22 as visiting Houston overcame a 17-point deficit.

Data: vs. Charlotte Sting.

Where: Charlotte Coliseum.

When: 7:30 p.m.

Radio: WGAY-1260

Records: Mystics 5-10, Sting 6-8.

Injuries: Mystics F Chamique Holdsclaw (finger) is day-to-day. F Heather Owen (shoulder) is a game-time decision. F Penny Moore (shoulder) is on the injured list. Sting F Tracy Reid (ankle) is a game-time decision. F Angie Braziel (knee) and C Nevriye Yilmas (hamstring, thumb) are on the injured list.

CAPTION: Murriel Page blows by Detroit's Cindy Brown en route to double-double. But Page couldn't lift the Mystics, who were outscored 54-39 in the second half.

CAPTION: Detroit's Jennifer Azzi drives against Mystics' Markita Aldridge in first half. Azzi sparked Shock's surge, scoring 11 of her 16 points in the second half.