Like a long-distance runner without a finishing kick, the Washington Mystics have competed well in several games this season for 3 1/2 quarters, only to lose their stride and find themselves unable to put away their opponents.
But the Mystics finally seemed to break through that fourth-quarter wall Saturday and managed to close out the New York Liberty, 91-81 at Verizon Center.
“I felt that the days prior to the game against the Liberty, we had three really good practices,” Mystics coach Trudi Lacey said.
“I think it’s just a combination of the players having played half a season together, and understanding what we want and understanding what it takes to win games. We put 40 minutes together. We have been very close many times, but we closed it out [against New York]. It was a really good win.”
The Mystics welcomed the Atlanta Dream on Tuesday night, the team’s third meeting this season. They split the first two games, with each team winning on the road.
Lacey has preached a commitment to defense all season and believes it has paid off for a team that has two rookies, guard Jasmine Thomas and forward Victoria Dunlap, who often play major minutes.
After opening the season with four rookies, the Mystics now have two. But they are still one of the youngest teams in the league. Lacey thinks that at just past the halfway point, they are finally ready to reel off some wins.
“I saw a little more toughness in our last game. We came out strong, scored 50 points in a half, which we had not done, and of course New York made a run, which we expected them to do, but we responded. So that was good to see,” Lacey said.
“I’ve said all along, they play with such heart and have just really stuck together the whole season and overcome a lot of things, but I think they are finally coming together. I’m happy for them.”
With Monique Currie and Alana Beard sidelined all season with injuries, Crystal Langhorne has played at an All-Star level, and Matee Ajavon is having a breakthrough season filling in at the starting two-guard spot for Beard.
Ajavon scored her 1,000th career point Saturday and is the team’s second leading scorer, behind Langhorne, at 15.7 points per game.
“I feel it is a great accomplishment. I still have a ways to go,” Ajavon said of her scoring milestone.
As for the team, Ajavon feels that it is beginning to practice what Lacey has been preaching.
“We are starting to jell and it is all coming together.”