For much of this injury-plagued season, the Washington Mystics have tried to forge an identity in their defense. It has been one that, at times, can be stellar and stingy. The team’s offense, however, has been a work in progress.
“Our best game probably of the season,” Washington Coach Trudi Lacey said. “We played consistently for two halves.”
Guard Matee Ajavon led the offense with 32 points, matching a career high.
Guided by a strong defense, the Mystics built a 22-point lead by the third quarter. They scored a season-high 50 points by halftime and finished with another season high, 91 points in a game. They hit all but one of their 29 free throws and outrebounded New York, 32-20.
These were strong signs from a team that, entering Saturday’s game, was second to last in points per game (72.11) and field goal percentage (.408) in the league.
And though the Mystics (4-14) defeated Tulsa by 20 points in late June, the Shock is among the worst teams in the league and New York (12-9) is among the Eastern Conference’s top squads. When the offense struggled early this season, forward Crystal Langhorne kept telling herself that one day, it would all come together.
“Eventually things would start to jell,” said Langhorne, who added 20 points. “We do have a lot of new people and it’s going to take time. And hopefully this game will get us moving and help us get better.”
The Mystics’ defense proved troublesome for New York from the beginning, holding the Liberty to 39.4 percent shooting from the field and forcing seven turnovers in the first half.
Ajavon’s slashing style and pull-up jumpers proved difficult for the Liberty to stop. By driving to the basket, she drew fouls as well and hit 10 of 11 free throws. With nearly two minutes left in the third quarter, the Mystics had built a 68-46 lead.
Despite that sizable margin, in the final minutes, the Mystics showed flashes of their old tendencies. The Liberty whittled down the deficit to nine points with 1 minute 21 seconds left. Then Ajavon hit a three-pointer and later sank four free throws to regain control.
“We have scorers on our team,” Ajavon said. “And on any given night anyone can score for us. That’s the good thing about our team. Now putting it all together, there’s time that we lack. But for the most part, I think everybody has been scoring. We just have to continue to get better.”