Mystics 67, Sun 59
Maybe the Connecticut Sun would like proof of the Washington Mystics' true identity, perhaps a review of dental records and birth certificates.
The Mystics squad the Sun handled relatively easily in three of four games bore no resemblance to the club that won, 67-59, yesterday at MCI Center in the first game of the best-of-three WNBA Eastern Conference semifinals.
"They are a lot more aggressive," said Sun forward Nykesha Sales, who was held to four points on 1-of-9 shooting. "Everyone over there is playing good basketball."
At the top of that list for the Mystics are forward Chasity Melvin (game-high 17 points, 11 rebounds) and rookie guard Alana Beard (13 points, 5 assists). Both struggled early in the season, toiling in the shadow of three-time all-star and former Olympian Chamique Holdsclaw.
When Holdsclaw left the team because of an undisclosed medical condition, however, Beard and Melvin emerged. Melvin became a strong inside presence and Beard came on as an outside threat. The combination led the Mystics to a five-game winning streak late in the season to get them in the playoffs.
"We are like sisters now," Beard said. "It wasn't like that at the beginning. Now when we are on the court, we are out there fighting for each other."
The emergence of Beard and Melvin and Washington's new commitment to a swarming-style defense and an offense predicated on finding the open shooter no matter who it is has led to a completely overhauled attack. The Mystics finished with four players in double figures, including 10 points from second-year player Aiysha Smith.
"Our players dedicated themselves to try and play as hard as they could the last eight games," Washington Coach Michael Adams said. "They decided as a group that they were going to bust their tails and let the chips fall where they may."
When the Mystics lost the offense of Holdsclaw (19 points per game), Adams quickly realized his team was unlikely to win by exchanging baskets with opponents. The key to the their success, Adams told his team, was to protect the basket.
The Mystics held the Sun to 21-of-59 shooting, including 21.4 percent (3 of 14) from beyond the three-point line.
Rookie Lindsay Whalen led the Sun with 16 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
In the first half, the Mystics did what they wanted early. They got the ball inside to Melvin, who scored six points off a combination of post moves and left-handed layups and helped Washington to a 24-12 lead with 7 minutes 14 seconds to go in the half. On defense, the Mystics forced the Sun to shoot from the perimeter. Connecticut missed 15 of its first 20 shots.
Former Mystics forward Asjha Jones then checked into the game and scored eight unanswered points to cut Washington's lead to four. Jones finished with 14 points.
The Sun trimmed its deficit to four before Smith sparked the Mystics to a 12-4 run late in the second half, hitting a three-pointer with a little more than four minutes left to put the Mystics up 11.
* STORM 70, LYNX 58: In Minneapolis, Lauren Jackson overcame foul trouble to score 14 points -- 12 in the second half -- to lead Seattle past Minnesota in the first game of the teams' WNBA Western Conference semifinal series.
Sheri Sam added 11 points and 10 rebounds for the Storm, which shot 48 percent from the field to notch its first playoff win in franchise history.
Nicole Ohlde led Minnesota with 17 points, and Tamika Williams added 16 points and eight rebounds.
Seattle jumped out to a 9-1 lead but Jackson, the league's top scorer at 20.5 points per game, picked up her third foul with 16:22 to play in the first half and did not return before the break. Minnesota took advantage of her absence, using a 13-0 run to take a 20-15 lead. Amanda Lassiter hit three three-pointers during the run.
But the Storm bounced back with a 12-0 run of its own, keyed by a pair of baskets by center Kamila Vodichkova, and led 32-24 at the half.
Jackson returned strong, shooting 4 for 4 from the floor and the free throw line in the second half, picking up only one more foul as the Storm pulled away.
"I was liking our chances halfway through the first half," said Minnesota Coach Suzie McConnell Serio, who was named WNBA coach of the year yesterday. "But those 20 turnovers, and the 20 points they scored off them, really hurt us."
The Storm played without starting guard Betty Lennox in the second half. She scored eight points before suffering a mild concussion in a first-half collision with a Lynx player.
The Storm has two chances to finish off the best-of-three series in Seattle tomorrow and Wednesday, if necessary.