The Washington Mystics’ trend of third-quarter dysfunction continued Tuesday night when they surrendered the first 10 points following intermission and were unable to recover in an 81-66 loss to the Phoenix Mercury in front of 7,281 at Verizon Center.
A season-high third consecutive loss dropped the Mystics (4-5) below .500 for the first time since May 24, a span of seven games, and into fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Contributing to Washington’s undoing were 15 turnovers, missing 13 of 18 from three-point range and getting to the free throw line just nine times.
Emma Meesseman had 14 points on 7-for-10 shooting and seven rebounds for the Mystics. The second-year forward was the only Washington player to score in double figures and was the only starter among the four who attempted at least 10 field goals to shoot higher than 30 percent.
The Mercury, meanwhile, had four players score at least 13 points, including a game-high 20 from center Brittney Griner. Forward Candace Dupree had 18 points and nine rebounds, and forward DeWanna Bonner added 14 points to help Phoenix win for the fourth time in five games.
“It’s kind of going to be a broken record I guess some nights about trying to grow up,” Mystics Coach Mike Thibault said of his youthful group that includes eight players who are rookies or in their second season. “We played a really good team really well for a half, and then for the fourth game in a row, we had a really bad third quarter at both ends of the floor.”
With the game tied at 37 at halftime, Phoenix proceeded to run its offense through Griner, and the No. 1 pick in last year’s WNBA draft had three field goals in the first four minutes of the third quarter. By the time Dupree sank a 17-foot jumper, the Mercury claimed a 47-37 lead.
Moments later, Thibault substituted his entire starting lineup and kept all but Meesseman on the bench for the remainder of the quarter and the opening minute of the last period. Players on the second unit scored 14 of Washington’s 16 third-quarter points, and when Meesseman made a layup with eight seconds to play, the Mystics were within 58-53.
The Mystics would draw no closer the rest of the way, and when they threatened briefly in the fourth quarter by closing the deficit to 69-61, guard Diana Taurasi (13 points, game-high 10 assists, three rebounds, two steals) either scored or assisted on three consecutive field goals to give Phoenix plenty of separation.
“We came out lethargic, and they jumped on us,” Mystics point guard Ivory Latta said of the third quarter. “It’s like Coach said, last three or four games it’s been happening to us in the third quarter, and it has to stop.”
Latta was part of a back-court rotation that combined to shoot 8 for 29 (28 percent) and missed 10 of 13 from three-point range. Reserve guard Kara Lawson did log a team-high six assists without a turnover one game after scoring a season-high 17 points in Sunday’s loss to the New York Liberty.
The loss to the Mercury was all the more disheartening considering Washington emerged from a recent shooting slump to make 43 percent from the field and held a 34-30 margin in rebounding, including more than two to one offensively. The Mystics had been shooting 31 percent over their last two games.
“I don’t think our morale is down at all,” Mystics reserve forward Monique Currie said. “The season is short, so we have turn things around pretty quickly. You can’t lose three, four, five, six games in a row because that can make a huge difference in the playoff push toward the end of the season. We’re confident we can turn things around.”
● STORM 80, SKY 76: Tanisha Wright scored 17 points to help visiting Seattle beat shorthanded Chicago, which was missing star Elena Delle Donne.
Delle Donne, who is second in the league in scoring at just over 22 points a game, was sidelined with a reported flareup of Lyme Disease that plagued her in college.
● SHOCK 72, LIBERTY 57: Courtney Paris had 12 points and a career-high 16 rebounds to lead Tulsa past visiting New York.