After the first few games this season, Washington Mystics Coach Mike Thibault was at a loss over his club’s woeful rebounding. With a week between games in mid-May, he focused almost solely on that fundamental part of the game in practice, and the Mystics responded by ascending to the top of the WNBA in rebounding differential.
In a 75-67 loss to the Atlanta Dream in front of 7,229 at Verizon Center on Sunday afternoon, it was as if Thibault’s charges had forgotten all those lessons about boxing out and pursuing missed shots with gusto.
The Mystics were outrebounded 17-4 on the offensive glass and outscored in the paint 18-0. Combine those glaring deficiencies with 21 turnovers, a season high for a regulation game, and it’s no wonder Washington (5-6) lost at home for the second time in three games at home.
“Mostly the game comes down to the same things that we lost games before this season in turnovers and offensive rebounding,” Thibault said. “They’re the best offensive rebounding team in the league, and we didn’t control it, giving up 17 offensive rebounds and not getting ones of our own.”
Even with such a vast discrepancy on the offensive glass, the Mystics were able to reduce an 11-point deficit in the first half to 60-59 with 4 minutes 49 seconds left in regulation on a pair of foul shots by Ivory Latta. But the Dream (7-3) scored 11 of the next 13 points, including three field goals from forward Sancho Lyttle, to separate enough for its fourth straight win. Case in point in the fourth quarter: The Mystics grabbed five total rebounds, and the Dream had seven offensive rebounds.
The Mystics, meanwhile, dipped below .500 for a second time in five days and fell to fifth place in the Eastern Conference nearly one-third of the way through the season. Washington does get a quick opportunity to gain some ground on the first-place Dream when the teams meet again in three days in Atlanta, the first of four straight games on the road.
“We can’t be an up-and-down team on rebounding,” Latta said. “We have to be consistent about what we’re going to do on a daily basis every single night. One thing I can say is we got them again on Wednesday. If rebounding is the key, then that’s something we need to fix, and we know we can get over the top.”
Latta was among three Mystics players to score in double figures. The point guard finished with 12 points, six assists and two rebounds, and rookie guard Bria Hartley scored a team-high 13 points with five assists and four rebounds. Forward Monique Currie added 11 points for Washington.
It didn’t help Washington’s cause that the Dream went to the free throw line 18 more times. Atlanta made 20 of 31 foul shots, and the Mystics did not attempt their first free throw until less than four minutes remained in the first half.
The Dream had four players score at least 14 points, including game highs of 16 from forward Angel McCoughtry, the reigning WNBA scoring champion, and center Erika DeSouza. Lyttle had 15 points and five of Atlanta’s 11 steals, and guard Tiffany Hayes chipped in 14 points.
“Down the stretch it’s frustrating,” Mystics guard Kara Lawson said. “I know me personally I missed a couple box-outs there when it was a one-possession game, so in the big picture, there are things that we could improve and are reasons why we lost the game, but when you’re in the moment in the fourth and it’s a one-possession game, forget everything that’s happened. You still have an opportunity, and we didn’t execute well enough.”
● MERCURY 80, LYNX 72: In Minneapolis, Diana Taurasi had 21 points and 11 assists and Candice Dupree had 18 points and 10 rebounds and Phoenix beat Minnesota.
Brittney Griner scored 14 points and DeWanna Bonner added 12 for the Mercury (7-3). Maya Moore had 14 points for the Lynx (8-3).
● SHOCK 85, STORM 79: Skylar Diggins scored a career-high 26 points to help host Tulsa win a franchise-record fourth straight game with a victory over Seattle.
Courtney Paris added 16 points and 12 rebounds while Glory Johnson had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Shock (4-5). Odyssey Sims added 15 points. Tanisha Wright scored 24 points to lead the Storm (5-8).
● SUN 76, LIBERTY 72: In Uncasville, Conn., Kelsey Griffin had 12 points and Connecticut earned its fourth straight win with a victory over New York (3-8).
All five starters scored in double figures for the Sun (6-6). Maryland product Alyssa Thomas had 13 points and seven rebounds for Connecticut.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.