UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Roughly an hour before tip-off Friday night, Washington Mystics forward Monique Currie walked by the scorer’s table and said to media sitting courtside: “Third time’s a charm, right?”
The starting small forward was referring to her club’s two previous failed attempts at securing a playoff berth, and there she was at the foul line three times in the closing 90 seconds with the game in the balance.
The Mystics’ longest tenured player swished each of those six attempts, and Washington escaped with a 71-67 victory over the Connecticut Sun that sent them to the postseason for a second straight year. What’s more, the Mystics reclaimed the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with one game left and can secure home-court advantage in the first round by beating the New York Liberty on Saturday night at Verizon Center and with losses by Chicago and Indiana in their final games.
“Huge relief,” Currie said after scoring 10 points. “It wasn’t pretty, but we found a way to win. We grinded it out at the end, and I’m very proud of us to be going into the postseason this year.”
Currie missed 9 of 10 from the field, but her foul shots down the stretch were part of 10 in a row for the Mystics, who did not have a field goal after forward Emma Meesseman’s putback with 3 minutes 51 seconds left in regulation.
Washington (16-17) did not relinquish the lead the rest of the way in beating the Sun for the fourth time in five games this season and providing Coach Mike Thibault with a layer of vindication.
The second-year Mystics coach and general manager spent 10 years with Connecticut, leading the team to the WNBA Finals twice and winning coach of the year two times. Thibault also was named coach of the year last season after directing Washington to the playoffs after it won a combined 11 games in 2011 and 2012.
“It’s a little bit personal, but I think anybody that’s in the business long enough always has those teams where something happens,” Thibault said. “Players play against teams they’ve been traded from, and the problem is I don’t get to shoot a single shot. I don’t get to foul anybody. I don’t get to do anything, so you coach a team and hope they do the right thing.”
In their second trip to Mohegan Sun Arena in six days, the Mystics nearly came undone amid 19 turnovers that led to 19 points for Connecticut. Washington committed six turnovers in the first five minutes of the second half, and the Sun (12-21) turned a seven-point deficit into a 47-44 advantage with 2:16 to play in the third quarter.
The Mystics used a 6-1 run to build a 57-52 lead with 7:49 to play in regulation, but Connecticut tied it at 57 when rookie forward Chiney Ogwumike made 1 of 2 foul shots. Washington took the lead for good a minute later following center Kia Vaughn’s driving layup off a bounce pass from Meesseman.
Vaughn was back in the starting lineup after sitting out Wednesday’s 72-69 loss to the Chicago Sky at Verizon Center. The WNBA suspended Vaughn for one game because of a flagrant foul 2 for elbowing Ogwumike in Sunday’s 89-81 double-overtime loss.
With Vaughn back in the middle, the Mystics were able to outrebound Connecticut 31-26, including 14-9 offensively. They also limited the last-place team in the Eastern Conference to 1 for 10 on three-pointers and made 15 of 16 from the foul line.
“It’s definitely a sense of relief, but it’s a blessing,” said point guard Ivory Latta, who along with Meesseman scored a team-high 16 points. “Two years in a row in the playoffs. I’m pretty much at a loss for words. I’m really excited, but then again I’m not complacent with where we’re at. We’ve still got a lot of work to do, and I know we’re going to get ready for the playoffs.”
●STARS 92, LYNX 76: Jia Perkins scored 23 points, and host San Antonio beat Minnesota to secure the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
●DREAM 92, SHOCK 76: In Atlanta, Ericka de Souza had 21 points and 12 rebounds for the Dream, which used a big second-quarter run to rout Tulsa.
Sancho Lyttle scored 17 points and Aneika Henry had 10 points and 12 rebounds for Atlanta. Skylar Diggins led the Shock with 24 points.
Phoenix center Brittney Griner, the first overall pick in last year’s draft, and third-year Tulsa forward Glory Johnson announced they are engaged.