In the brief stretches when things went haywire during the Washington Mystics’ recent five-game home winning streak, players were able to summon sheer grit to withstand breakdowns in rebounding, defensive responsibility and ball security.
With fortitude and fundamentals lacking Tuesday night, there was nothing left to buoy the Mystics in a 73-62 loss to the visiting Indiana Fever.
Washington (13-9) dropped its third game in five and slipped to third place in the Eastern Conference with 12 games left in the regular season. The Mystics also failed in their first attempt to secure the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Fever, which owns the same overall record but is ahead in the standings based on a better conference record.
The season series is tied at two games, with the final game to be played Sept. 8 at Verizon Center.
“They bullied us better,” Mystics Coach Mike Thibault said. “From about a couple minutes into the third quarter until the early fourth, they got every loose ball. They got offensive rebounds. We got shoved around, and if you want to play at the highest level, you’ve got to respond to that, and I don’t think we did it quick enough, early enough to stop the run.”
With Washington within 36-35 with 7 minutes 44 seconds to play in the third quarter, Indiana scored 16 of the next 18 points, including eight in a row, to built a 52-37 advantage.
Then 10-time all-star Tamika Catchings showed why she’s among the most skilled players in women’s basketball history, scoring 10 of her game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter to close out the Fever’s fifth win in six games. The power forward scored six straight points when the Mystics had trimmed the margin to 54-46, and the lead never fell below nine the rest of the way.
The Mystics’ two all-stars did not look the part. Power forward Emma Meesseman had no points in 17 minutes for her first scoreless performance since June 22, 2014. Center Stefanie Dolson added just six points in a little more than 22 minutes for her fourth game in five in single digits after entering the all-star break having reached at least 10 points in eight consecutive games.
Forward Tierra Ruffin-Pratt led Washington, playing its fourth game in seven days, with 17 points on 8-for-12 shooting with three rebounds. The two-time All-Met Player of the Year from T.C. Williams scored her most points since a career-high 20 June 23 during an 84-80 win against Los Angeles.
“I just think they were a little more aggressive than we were in the second half,” Ruffin-Pratt said. “That was the main difference. Indiana always makes it hard for us, and they upped their pressure in the second half. They came out trapping, so we’ve just got to learn to take care of the ball a little better, and we’ll be fine.”
The Mystics committed 17 turnovers that led to 18 points for Indiana. Among the main culprits in that regard was point guard Kara Lawson, who had missed the last four games with a sore back. The 1999 All-Met Player of the Year was responsible for a season-high five turnovers in just under 14 minutes. Washington forced 11 turnovers but managed four points off them.
A deficiency in rebounding plagued the Mystics yet again. This time the disparity was 37-26, including 12-4 offensively. Washington’s starters collected 14 rebounds while the Fever’s combined for 28, owning a 9-3 advantage on the offensive glass. That elevated effort in chasing down missed shots netted Indiana 13 more field goal attempts than the Mystics even though the teams shot essentially the same percentage.
Indiana guard Shenise Johnson had a game-high nine rebounds to go along with 11 points. First-time all-star Marissa Coleman chipped in 11 points for Indiana. The small forward played her high school basketball at St. John’s (D.C.) and her college ball at Maryland and was an integral member of the national championship team in 2005-06.
“They were just really aggressive defensively,” Lawson said. “They put us on our heels, and we turned the basketball over, and we kind of resorted to playing isolation basketball, a lot of pick and rolls, which they were trapping, and we were kind of scrambling. That happens some nights.”