Presented a chance to play postseason spoiler on Sunday against the New York Liberty, the Washington Mystics displayed a renewed energy rarely seen during a frustrating run that has cemented their place at the bottom of the WNBA standings.
Those good feelings slipped away in the final minutes, replaced by a familiar narrative. In a flurry of forced shots and poor rebounding, the Mystics turned a nine-point fourth-quarter lead into a 75-68 loss before an announced crowd of 8,087 at Verizon Center.
Led by Cappie Pondexter’s game-high 30 points, the Liberty kept its playoff hopes from taking a serious hit by rallying for its second victory over the Mystics in five days.
“It’s been like the story of the season,” guard Monique Currie said after her team’s 11th straight loss. “We can’t catch a break. They made tough shots. They made big shots, and we didn’t execute.”
Though New York (14-17) entered the game with a one-game lead on Chicago for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth, the stakes failed to provide much of a boost until the closing minutes. The Liberty spent much of an at-times sloppy contest Sunday chasing the struggling Mystics.
Playing without leading scorer Crystal Langhorne (left foot strain), Washington (5-27) had four players reach double-figures in scoring, led by 16 points from guard Jasmine Thomas. The Mystics led by nine points when reserve guard Iziane Castro Marques scored her only baskets of the game on back-to-back possessions to start the fourth quarter.
The Liberty battled back to tie it at 63 on forward Nicole Powell’s three-pointer with 2 minutes 53 seconds left and took the lead for good when Powell hit a baseline runner about a minute later.
With the game in the balance, Washington hoisted several ill-advised shots and scored just three points in an error-filled final two minutes. Afterward, Coach Trudi Lacey bemoaned a lack of ball movement and selfish play during the deciding stretch.
“It’s a matter of taking a deep breath and calming down,” Thomas said. “We’re running plays that we know — we’ve run them all year long. We just can’t quite get the execution down toward the end of the game.”
With the loss, Washington is guaranteed to finish with at least a share of the league’s worst record. The team will have to win one of its final two games to equal its win total from 2011, when it had the second-fewest victories in team history.
The Mystics haven’t celebrated a win in almost a month, but after Sunday’s encouraging effort, Currie said her team lived up to her assertion that it would not offer “free passes to the playoffs.”
“I think they had to work,” Currie said. “We controlled most of the game — I think the last five minutes of the fourth [were] when they took over. They didn’t come in here and get an easy win.”
●SHOCK 80, SILVER STARS 70: Temeka Johnson scored 18 points to lead Tulsa to a road win against playoff-bound San Antonio.
Ivory Latta added 15 points and Roneeka Hodges 11 for Tulsa (8-23), which won its second straight after a four-game skid.
Sophia Young scored 15 points and Danielle Adams 12 to lead San Antonio (19-12), which has lost seven of 10 since a 12-game winning streak. Becky Hammon and Jia Perkins both scored 10 points.
— Associated Press