With the jockeying for playoff position in the Eastern Conference coming down to the wire, the Washington Mystics did their part Tuesday night to gain a slim advantage for the No. 2 seed by thumping the New York Liberty, 79-46, at Verizon Center in their most lopsided win of the season.
The Mystics turned this one into a laugher over nearly nine minutes bridging the opening two quarters when they used a 14-0 flurry to move ahead, 31-10, with 5 minutes 42 seconds left in the first half. The Liberty missed 13 consecutive field goal attempts and committed four turnovers in that stretch, and Washington never led by fewer than 13 the rest of the way, ending a two-game losing streak.
Coupled with the Indiana Fever’s loss to the Minnesota Lynx, the Mystics (14-15) took over second place by one game in the Eastern Conference with five left in the regular season. The Fever and Mystics entered Tuesday tied, but Indiana owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with the teams set to meet at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Friday night.
“It is a statement game,” center Kia Vaughn said of the Mystics’ fifth win in six games and seventh in their past 10. “It means a lot to us because we showed character. We’ve just got to let everybody know we’re here.”
Vaughn was among four starters to reach double figures with 12 points and five rebounds. She also missed only one of her seven field goal tries in helping Washington shoot 51.7 percent, which was a fraction from establishing a team high this season.
In limiting an opponent to a season low in points and field goal percentage, the Mystics turned in perhaps in their most robust overall defensive performance. New York rarely had clean looks at the basket in shooting 29 percent and committing 16 turnovers that led to 22 points for Washington.
Liberty Coach Bill Laimbeer all but threw in the towel in the second half when he pulled starting center Tina Charles for the entire fourth quarter. The 2012 league MVP had been part of recent upswing for the Liberty (12-16) but managed just 10 points. No other New York player scored more than six.
“I actually got to relax for a fourth quarter,” Mystics Coach Mike Thibault said. “Obviously a great win. We played well at both ends, and the one thing I thought was a negative in the first half we took care of in the second half. We gave up nine offensive boards at halftime. We only gave up three in the second. When you shoot over 50 percent and you hold another team under 30, everything looks good.”
The Mystics also are getting healthy for their closing kick to the regular season. Playing for the first time since giving birth six weeks ago to her first child was second-year guard Tayler Hill. The No. 4 pick in last year’s WNBA draft logged nearly six and a half minutes and missed all three of her field goal attempts.
Washington also recently got back forward Jelena Milovanovic, who missed 13 games with a strained knee. The Serbian rookie was part of a bench that contributed 23 points, including seven from second-year forward Tianna Hawkins (Maryland).
“Our defense led to great offense on the other end,” said Mystics point guard Ivory Latta, who scored a game-high 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting, including 4 for 5 from three-point range. “As long as we keep that defensive intensity and get going, we’ve got players than can run the wing and posts that can run in the middle, so we’re able to get easy baskets.”
● SKY 82, SUN 66: Epiphanny Prince had 20 points and six assists, leading visiting Chicago to a victory against Connecticut. Reserve Allie Quigley scored 17 and Sylvia Fowles added 12 points and 12 rebounds for Chicago (13-16). Elena Delle Donne finished with 15 points. Rookie Alyssa Thomas (Maryland) had 15 points and six rebounds for the Sun (11-19).
● LYNX 66, FEVER 64: Seimone Augustus’s rebound basket as time expired lifted Minnesota to its 10th consecutive victory by beating host Indiana. Augustus’s 18 points helped the Lynx (23-6) keep pace with Phoenix for the West’s top spot. Indiana (13-16) is still competing for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
MERCURY 75, DREAM 67: Candice Dupree had 16 points to lead four players in double figures as host Phoenix (24-4) beat Atlanta. Angel McCoughtry led the Dream (17-11) with 19 points.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.