Facing an L.A. Sparks team that sat third in the standings entering tonight’s game, the Mystics were looking to keep their playoff hopes alive. Trailing Dallas by half a game for the final postseason spot, the Mystics would have to best an L.A. team that was leading the league in points off of turnovers, doing so without Tianna Hawkins.
At the beginning of each quarter, the teams took a 24-second shot clock violation to spotlight the many injustices this country faces and to continue to bring awareness to the importance of voting. Commentators spoke of the significance of voting and resources were displayed on the screen, providing instructions on how to register to vote.
A slow start to the game saw the first non-free throw points come at the 7:20-minute mark. The combined score between the two teams after one was 35, with the Mystics down 15–20.
Despite the Mystics’ sluggish start, the Sparks were arguable worse, even though they held the lead on the scoreboard. Washington had three turnovers. L.A. had four. Washington shot 20-percent from three. L.A. was 17-percent. The Mystics connected on 43-percent of their field goals. L.A. shot 37-percent.
Even with some questionable play in the first, it was Chelsea Gray who kept the Sparks active in the first, shooting 3–5 from the field and putting up eight of her total 21 points.
The second quarter saw tough play from both sides. Myisha Hines-Allen — who only strengthened her case as the most improved player — continued her impressive streak of making tough, contested shots. In a game where she was desperately needed, Hines-Allen put up 30 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three steals and shot 65-percent from the field and 75-percent from three.
What makes Hines-Allen’s play all the more outstanding is the fact that she was scoring against defenders like Nneka Ogwumike (15 points, six rebounds) and Candace Parker (17 rebounds, six points, six assists, two blocks) — who is in the running for defensive player of the year.
With defenses focusing on Hines-Allen, Ariel Atkins (eight points, four assists) stepped up for the Mystics. Around the five-minute mark, Atkins drove hard to the basket, earning the and one, finishing a play that would have certainly lifted fans out of their seats.
Despite strong play from Hines-Allen and Atkins, L.A. went on an 11–0 run in the final two and a half minutes of the quarter. They were cruising until Hines-Allen said: “ENOUGH!”
As the shot clock expired, Hines-Allen drained a long three, capping what was an incredible second quarter for the third-year forward.
Four quick points to start the third quarter, which led to an 8–2 run, caused a Sparks timeout. The play that led to the timeout, Hines-Allen taking the ball coast-to-coast and scoring emphatically over Parker.
The confidence of Hines-Allen was noticeably contagious. The Mystics dominated the third as six different players scored. Emma Meesseman caught fire, scoring 11 of her 14 in the third, while also adding her lone block of the affair and one of her five assists. Leilani Mitchell, meanwhile, had 10 points and nine assists.
The Mystics outscored the Sparks 23–12 in the third and went into the break up 62–57.
The team scoring continued in the fourth with Jacki Gemelos draining a three. In the heart of the fourth, however, the Mystics went cold. They didn’t score for over four minutes and let L.A. climb back into the game. When the Mystics finally made a shot — a 24-foot three from Atkins — they led 71–68.
Gray would march down the court and put up a two of her own closing the gap to one. On the insuring possession, to nobody’s surprise, Hines-Allen made a three, then another three, then grabbed a board and found Meesseman to put the Mystics up seven, a gap the Sparks wouldn’t be able to bridge.
In a must-win contest, and without Hawkins, Head Coach Mike Thibault leaned heavily on his starters, all of whom played north of 30 minutes.
In what has been an exhausting and strenuous season on so many levels, this game was yet another test for the Mystics. The exhaustion was visible on the court and when the final whistle rang out, Hines-Allen collapsed into her teammates who swarmed her with smiles and high-fives.
With the Mystics and Wings now sharing identical records (7–13), the eighth seed is truly up for grabs. The Mystics’ two final games of the season come against teams that have a combined 8–32 record, but nothing is a given in such a competitive league and the Mystics know that.
The team looks focused and confident and are heating up at just the right time.
The Mystics’ next game is on Saturday, September 12 at 12 p.m. ET against the New York Liberty and will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington.