Natasha Cloud stood by the bench, dancing during a timeout midway through the fourth quarter Thursday as the crowd egged her on. That part wasn’t new; Cloud is always dancing. Then the often-stoic Tina Charles joined in, and they did the Kid ’n Play dance as the Entertainment and Sports Arena crowd erupted. At the next timeout, Shavonte Zellous joined the pair, dancing to Beyoncé and taking pictures with an imaginary camera.

It was that kind of night.

The Mystics led from start to finish in a 89-71 victory over the Los Angeles Sparks for their second win of the week.

We’re really working our a---s off every game and practice,” Cloud said. “Every day we show up and we’re just trying to get better. And it’s been a tough road. And now we’re starting to feel like we’re getting our mojo and we’re getting on a stride and we’re getting our momentum.”

One thing killed Cloud’s buzz, though.

“I’m disappointed in our referees coming over and trying to steal our joy at the end of the bench. I’ve never seen a ref go up to an NBA team and tell them to stop dancing or stop cheering, especially when media timeouts are four minutes.”

Coach Mike Thibault had hoped to surround former MVP Charles with shooters and scorers, forcing opposing defenses to pick their poison. Though Charles is the WNBA’s leading scorer, the hitch in that plan for the Mystics (4-5) has been that shots weren’t falling for those shooters.

The inside-out game delivered Thursday, with Charles (20 points) and Ariel Atkins (23) hitting their stride.

“I didn’t think it was particularly smooth for a while offensively,” Thibault said. “I just thought Ariel was so aggressive at the start. And then Tina found her … as did others. I thought we tried to move the ball well. I don’t think it was as good as we could have had, but it was pretty good.

“But I just liked the fact that Ariel and Tina both were aggressive, again, coming out to start the game. It puts teams on their heels when you can have both a post presence and a perimeter presence ready to go right from the start. Ariel's pretty locked in right now.”

The Sparks were focused on Charles from the opening tip, sending two and three defenders at the 2012 MVP and leaving Atkins and others open on the perimeter. Atkins took advantage, making consecutive three-pointers and a runner. Moments later, Charles reeled off three consecutive baskets with a couple of free throws mixed in. A baseline fadeaway from Atkins put Washington up 23-10 with 1:35 remaining in the first quarter. The Mystics were never in any real trouble the rest of the way.

Atkins’s impressive line included five rebounds and three assists, and it came on the heels of a career-high 29 points in an 85-81 win over the Lynx on Tuesday. Her seven straight games of 15-plus points are the longest such stretch of her career. Charles recorded the 158th double-double of her career — No. 2 in league history — as she added 10 rebounds to go with her 20 points. Myisha Hines-Allen finished with 10 points and six rebounds.

Te’a Cooper led the Sparks (4-4) with 11 points and Brittney Sykes added 10 off the bench. Los Angeles shot just 32.8 percent from the field and was outrebounded 43-31.

“It feels good to finally figure out some things we’ve been trying to work on in practice and actually getting it to work in a game,” Atkins said. “Our chemistry is starting to come along. … We’re figuring out each other. We’re figuring out what works for us, what doesn’t work for us.

“[Tina and I] have had time to play together. She’s figuring out where the doubles are coming from. We’ve got our backside post who is making the right cuts at the right time. And she’s either hitting me on the kick out or hitting our post on the dive. … Really communication has been the huge key for us.””

The Mystics took a 45-35 lead into halftime and that 10-point lead could have been more. The Sparks shot just 33.3 percent in the half and just 20.0 percent in the first quarter after an 0-for-6 start. Los Angeles grabbed seven offensive rebounds in the first.

Notes: Sparks guard Kristi Toliver played her first game in the Mystics’ arena since she won the 2019 championship as a member of the organization. A tribute video was played in her honor during the first quarter.