Neither mixing lineups nor benching starters helped the Washington Mystics tonight. They were outhustled, outplayed and eliminated from WNBA playoff contention, losing to the Orlando Miracle, 81-54, before 11,283 at Orlando Arena.
Orlando (13-16) moved into a tie with Detroit for the third and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Because the Shock and Miracle play each other twice, the Mystics (12-18) lose all possible tiebreaker scenarios.
The loss ended the Mystics' franchise-record six-game winning streak. The Mystics were outrebounded 15-3 offensively, turned over the ball 22 times to Orlando's four, and could not stop Orlando's transition game in the second half.
"We were being used," said Mystics Coach Nancy Darsch, whose team finished the season series against Orlando with one win and three losses.
The Mystics could not match the Miracle's offensive play. Forward Chamique Holdsclaw made 5 of 14 field goal attempts and finished with four rebounds. In her previous two games, Holdsclaw had a combined 25 rebounds.
"We didn't rebound the ball particularly well and it showed," Holdsclaw said. "They just dominated the post area."
Miracle forward Sheri Sam scored a game-high 19 points, and the Miracle's starting post players outscored the Mystics' 30-8. Darsch shuffled five players against the Miracle front court, but none of them could slow down Orlando's scoring or offensive rebounding.
"I tried everything," Darsch said. "But we just didn't have the bulk or the size or the legs to contend with them. I thought they were getting us pinned very deep. We were under the rim, they were getting lay-ups, we weren't getting good help."
Washington led early, 9-8, but Orlando controlled the rest of the half, breaking to a 21-11 lead and stretching it to 39-21 late in the half behind four straight shots, two by guard Nykesha Sales (16 points). The Mystics closed the gap in the final minute, making 3 of 4 shots, the last a running hook by Holdsclaw with 11.7 seconds left to make the score 42-27 at the half.
But Washington opened the second half with six turnovers and 3-for-11 shooting. Orlando, which defeated the Mystics, 77-52 at MCI Center on July 19, capitalized on Washington's mistakes, scoring in transition and making 6 of 8 shots during one stretch of the Mystics' shooting struggles to help build a 37-point lead.
"Basically at halftime, we weren't getting back into transition, people were coming down and hitting threes, and continuing to spread the lead," Mystics guard Nikki McCray said. "For whatever reason, we didn't get matched up, we were calling [for three-point shots] but weren't getting the pick, and we were just late."
Darsch benched starting guard Andrea Nagy, who assisted on center Murriel Page's game-winning shot against Los Angeles Saturday night, for Markita Aldridge. Nagy finished with no points, two assists and four fouls in 14 minutes.
"I didn't think she was being effective," Darsch said. "They were just going to use her, so I had to get someone with more size out there. . . . Orlando came out very aggressive, very fast-paced, very high-tempo, and we were not able to slow them down, size-wise or speed-wise. They really took it to us."
The Mystics were frustrated by Orlando's offensive rebounding. The Miracle scored 15 second-chance points, and was able to score a basket on 50 percent of the possessions in which it had one or more shots.
"It's hurt us all year," said McCray, who had a team-high 13 points. "I think they recognized what our weaknesses are, and they used them."