INDIANAPOLIS — Listed generously at 5 feet 6 in the Washington Mystics media guide, point guard Ivory Latta hasn’t been one to shy away from contact throughout her professional career. Teammates have called her fearless, and Latta without reservation frequently gets deep into the painted area to challenge defenders sometimes a foot taller.
With the Indiana Fever protecting the lane Thursday night and embracing the role of aggressor, Latta instead did most of her scoring from three-point range during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The two-time all-star finished with 22 points, making 6 of 11 from beyond the arc, but the Fever’s physical tactics took their toll in a 78-73 loss.
Even wearing a protective mask hardly deadened blows to Latta’s face and nose, and her exasperation spiked when she was charged with a technical foul with a minute and a half left in the game. Officials assessed the penalty because Latta, clearly annoyed, used her left arm to separate herself from Fever guard Briann January, who had moved within inches of her head after the whistle.
“The technical, I didn’t see what happened,” Mystics Coach Mike Thibault said. “All I know is she got hit in the face again, and I’m sure she’s frustrated with that right now. She’s been popped in the nose enough times.”
In the postgame news conference, Latta declined to single out specific Indiana players. The focus, she said, needs to turn to winning Game 2 on Saturday at Verizon Center in order to force a decisive third game in Indianapolis, where the Mystics won both regular season meetings by double figures.
The Fever, meanwhile, is seeking a third straight win in the District. Indiana won the two regular season matchups at Verizon Center by three points each time and did so without forward Tamika Catchings. The eight-time all-star missed both of those games with a sore back.
In Thursday’s game, the five-time WNBA defensive player of the year finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds and seven steals.
“Now we have room to turn up our level of intensity a little bit more,” Mystics forward Monique Currie said. “Now we see, especially the young [players], what it’s like, how aggressive Indiana will be so that not only will we match that intensity but exceed it.”
Apart from not backing down from Indiana’s rugged disposition and remaining poised despite the rough-and-tumble play, the Mystics’ corrective measures also must include better attention to ball security. Washington committed 16 turnovers Thursday, extending its streak to three straight games in which it has committed at least that many.
Three of those turnovers came down the stretch, when the Mystics were trying to keep pace after Latta’s three-pointer provided a 61-60 lead with 4 minutes 18 seconds left. But rookie center Stefanie Dolson shortly thereafter threw an ill-advised pass out of bounds, and Indiana got January’s layup on the other end.
On the Mystics’ ensuing possession, two defenders trapped Latta near half court, leading to a turnover and guard Shavonte Zellous’s driving layup for a 68-61 lead with 2:21 to play. The final turnover came when Washington was unable to get off a shot before the 24-second clock expired.
“It’s just an all-around physical game,” said Latta, who committed four turnovers. “That’s the playoffs. That’s the beauty of the game, just going out there and just being physical. Me personally I need to take care of the ball more, and we’ll be ready for Saturday.”