With an overhauled roster featuring eight players who are either rookies or in their second season, the Washington Mystics came storming back from a double-digit deficit and pushed the reigning WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx until the late stages of the fourth quarter before losing, 89-77, in the opener for both teams Friday night at Verizon Center.
In front of an announced 7,395 that included the Washington Wizards starting back court of John Wall and Bradley Beal, the Mystics took their first and only lead, 66-65, with 8 minutes 31 seconds left in regulation when reserve guard Tierra Ruffin-Pratt swished a jumper from the left side.
That basket completed a rally from a 17-point deficit in the first quarter and led to a Minnesota timeout. The Lynx then embarked on a decisive 11-1 flurry during which it held Washington without a field goal for more than four minutes, and the Mystics got no closer than six the rest of the way.
“When we got the lead I thought maybe we had turned the tide,” Mystics second-year coach Mike Thibault said. “And then they got an offensive rebound, there was a loose ball on the floor, and we’re laying there, and they’re picking it up and made a shot. We made our own mistakes, but the effort, particularly that second group in the first half that got us back in the game and brought some order out of the chaos, was good.”
Point guard Ivory Latta led the Mystics with 25 points, making 6 of 6 three-pointers in the second half to keep Washington within reach. Latta shot 8 of 11 overall, 7 for 9 from beyond the arc, and added five assists and two rebounds. Ruffin-Pratt had 17 points as part of a bench that contributed 33 points.
The Mystics were outrebounded, 44-31, and committed eight of their 11 turnovers in the second half. They also could do little to slow Maya Moore, whose game-high 34 points were one short of matching a career high. Moore, who had 21 points in the first half, shot 11 for 21 and had nine rebounds and three assists.
“She’s a great competitor,” Ruffin-Pratt said of the WNBA Finals MVP. “It’s hard to get her off her game. You’ve got to stay with her, be physical with her, just try to stay in front of her, but she’s a hard player to guard.”
Trailing 27-10 late in the first quarter, the Mystics made the game competitive again thanks in large part to Ruffin-Pratt and fellow reserves Stefanie Dolson, Bria Hartley and Tianna Hawkins. Dolson, the No. 6 overall pick in April’s WNBA draft, made three jumpers in a row, and Ruffin-Pratt added 1 of 2 free throws during a 7-0 burst that trimmed the margin to 29-21 early in the second quarter and led to a Lynx timeout.
After Seimone Augustus (24 points) made a layup, Washington got within 31-25 on a turnaround jumper from rookie Jelena Milovanovic and Hartley’s driving layup through congestion. Hartley was the No. 7 pick in this year’s draft and Milovanovic a second rounder in 2009.
The Serbian forward who spent the past four years playing professionally overseas made the roster thanks to a strong preseason in which she showed versatility by scoring inside and consistently making midrange jump shots. But Milovanovic went down hard midway through the second quarter Friday and lay on the court clutching her right knee before being helped to the bench to end her night.
Latta’s three-pointer minutes later drew Washington within 39-35, and Monique Currie followed with two foul shots and a fast-break layup to draw the Mystics even for the first time. The Lynx went into the locker room ahead, 43-39, by closing the half with consecutive field goals.
“That’s who we are,” Thibault said, referring to the team’s youth. “We made a conscious decision as an organization to go in this direction, and we have to live with some of the growing pains that go along with it.”