The Washington Mystics opened the season in late May with a win over Tulsa, a pleasing start for first-year Coach Mike Thibault, who was brought in to try to improve one of the WNBA’s struggling franchises.
You could make the case, however, that the Mystics’ 84-61 home victory over Tulsa on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center was just as important — if not more — as the win that started the season.
Washington’s most one-sided triumph in almost three years ended a five-game losing streak. It also — at least temporarily — stiff-armed any here-we-go-again thoughts that could have been creeping into the heads of players who have been through other briefly promising seasons in Washington.
Playing their third game in four days, the Mystics (5-6) wiped out two recent weaknesses — rebounding and defense — by beating the Shock by 19 on the boards and limiting the last-place team in the Western Conference to 24.3 percent shooting.
Four of the Mystics’ previous five opponents had shot 49 percent or better from the floor.
“It was a must game for us,” Washington forward Monique Currie said. “Sometimes you can get discouraged when things like [losing streaks] happen. To come in here and play the way we played, I think that’s given us a big boost, some energy, some positive thoughts to take into the second part of the season. . . . I knew that we could turn this around.”
“This is huge,” said forward Crystal Langhorne, another veteran. “We had a rough stretch. . . . We were really aggressive. It was good for us.”
All of Washington’s starters scored at least nine points, and all 10 Mystics who played in the first half scored. The Mystics poured in the final nine points of the half — in a span of 73 seconds — to take a 44-34 lead and outscored Tulsa 21-9 in the third quarter. This after a first half that featured 11 ties and six lead changes.
“It’s been a long two weeks,” said Thibault, who with the win tied Van Chancellor for first on the WNBA’s all-time regular season victory list with 211. “Our energy level was really, really good. Our players were really focused on the defensive end, and I think our offense came because of our defense.”
“We just got to learn that we have to be a defensive team,” guard Ivory Latta said. “It’s all about trust, and we’ve got to continue to build that trust. We’ve got to continue to build that chemistry out on the court. We’ve got to continue to trust and rely on each other that we’re going to have each other’s back.”
There was a lot to be happy about on the offensive end as well. Thibault was particularly pleased about a trip down the court during the spurt that closed the first half. By his count, every Mystics player touched the ball during an approximately 11-second possession that began with a steal by Emma Meesseman and ended with a Matee Ajavon three-point shot.
“When you see your team playing like that,” Thibault said, “you know you’re making some progress.”
Latta, challenged by Thibault to keep shooting during a mild slump, opened the game with a three-pointer and finished with a team-high 15 points against her former franchise.
“We’ve been on her all week to be more aggressive,” Thibault said. “I told her coming back [from Atlanta on Saturday] to push the tempo, run the ball up the court and make them have to backpedal and get us some easy baskets in transition.”
“I just felt I had to come out and start with a whole bunch of energy, and that’s what I did,” Latta said. “With that energy, I know everybody else will feed off of it. Just trying to come out with a bang.”
●DREAM 93, SILVER STARS 67: Tiffany Hayes scored 19 points as Atlanta won at home for its sixth straight victory.
●FEVER 71, STORM 63: Tamika Catchings scored 18 points, and defending champion Indiana pulled away in the fourth quarter for a win at home.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.