The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Natasha Cloud cries foul after the Mystics come up short vs. the Sparks

Sparks 79, Mystics 76

Mystics guard Natasha Cloud disputed the lack of a foul call on the game’s final play. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)

Sitting at her locker in Entertainment and Sports Arena, Washington Mystics guard Natasha Cloud sighed and then contemplated how to word her next comment.

“I’ve already racked up about $400 worth of fines today,” she said after a 79-76 loss to the Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday afternoon. “So let’s just get going.”

Cloud said she was struck on her shooting arm when she heaved a shot at the buzzer — a potential foul call that would’ve awarded her three free throws and a chance to tie the score. After saying the officials made too large of an impact on the game, Cloud stopped herself.

“But we shouldn’t even be letting it get to that point,” she continued. “So that’s the frustrating thing that we need to figure out within here.”

On Twitter, though, she didn’t hold back: “Fine me. Our officials are trash.”

The Mystics entered the weekend with momentum. Now, Washington (20-14) enters its final two regular season games on a two-game skid.

“We lost an opportunity to … put ourselves in an interesting position,” Coach Mike Thibault said. “Now it’s going to be tough. Normally [if] you hold a team to around 70 points, we’re going to win. We just didn’t score enough points tonight.”

A win against the Sparks (13-20) would’ve moved the Mystics into the No. 4 playoff seed after the Seattle Storm lost to the Las Vegas Aces. The Storm (20-13) holds the tiebreaker over the Mystics, who close with games against the last-place Indiana Fever (5-29) on Friday and next Sunday.

Against the Sparks, the Mystics struggled to find offensive rhythm. Their leading scorer and rebounder, forward Elena Delle Donne, returned after resting during Washington’s 93-83 loss Friday at the Chicago Sky. The two-time MVP had one of her worst offensive games Sunday, notching eight points on 2-for-12 shooting. She missed three jump shots in the final 2:05, including an attempt that would’ve given the Mystics a one-point lead with 7.2 seconds to go.

“Everybody has one of those sometimes,” Thibault said. “I don’t know if I’ve seen one like that. But get it out of her system now, I guess. It was just one of those days.”

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The Mystics fell behind by 13 points late in the second quarter but drew within six early in the third. Guard Ariel Atkins and forward Myisha Hines-Allen finished with 20 points apiece; Hines-Allen has scored 20 or more in back-to-back games for the first time this season. Rookie center Shakira Austin added 16 points and 10 rebounds. The Mystics shot 38.5 percent overall and 3 for 15 (20 percent) from beyond the arc.

“We got good looks at the basket,” Thibault said. “If I had to draw plays again and get … some of those same open shots, I’d feel good about drawing up those same plays. The ball just didn’t go in.”

Los Angeles snapped a six-game skid and notched its first win since parting ways with four-time WNBA all-star Liz Cambage on July 26. Brittney Sykes scored a game-high 21 points; fellow guard Jordin Canada had 11 points and 12 assists.

The teams combined for 41 fouls, and Cloud, who had eight points and nine assists, was assessed a technical in the third quarter when she disagreed with a call against forward Alysha Clark.

The Sparks had a 77-76 lead with 17.6 seconds remaining when Delle Donne blocked Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike and gathered the rebound. After Delle Donne missed her shot, Los Angeles center Olivia Nelson-Ododa made a pair of free throws to make it a three-point game with 4.4 seconds left.

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Cloud received the inbound pass and dribbled past half court before unleashing a shot. She believed Canada hit her right arm. After watching a replay, Cloud pumped her fist and trotted to the sideline before returning to midcourt to plead with the officials.

“I don’t know what people want from us, but we can’t make those calls,” Cloud said. “I’m having to get technicals in games simply because we’re not getting calls. So I want the ‘W’ to pay my $400.”

Here’s what else to know about the Mystics’ loss:

Draft pick drama

Sunday’s game had implications well beyond this postseason. The Sparks’ 2023 first-round draft pick is owned by the Atlanta Dream, which offered that selection in a trade with the Mystics that gave the Dream the No. 1 pick this year. The Mystics have the option to swap their 2023 first-round pick for the Sparks’ selection. Los Angeles’s playoff hopes remained alive with Sunday’s win, but if it misses the postseason, that draft pick will be a lottery selection.