“It wasn’t pretty,” Thomas recalled before Friday’s game. “I forget the score, but they beat us by 30. We don’t want a repeat of that.”
Actually, it was 31, a 101-70 beatdown in Los Angeles back on June 18. Perhaps it was that memory, or being guarded by former Mystics guard and mentor Alana Beard that propelled Thomas to her best start of the season – 11 points in the first half.
Knowing a fast start was critical to compete against a team like the Sparks, the Mystics started off at a blistering pace – shooting over 83 percent in the first half of the first quarter.
Then came the inevitable cool down. The All-Star laden Sparks, led by Beard, Candace Parker and Kristi Toliver made up ground quickly. By the end of the first quarter, they were up by 12. At halftime, it was 15.
The second half was veritable clinic by the Sparks, who increased their lead to 20 before the third quarter had reached it’s halfway point, and the rout was on, as L.A. cruised to a 96-68 victory.
“We were executing our game plan, then we hit a lull in the second quarter and turned the ball over three times in a row,” said Mystics coach Trudi Lacey. “Next thing you know, we were down by 15. Against a team that good, you can’t have defensive mistakes and mental mistakes.”
The struggling Mystics (5-23) were no match for the crisp, efficient offense of the Sparks (20-9), who displayed excellent ball movement, played lock down defense and showed off a few dazzling alley-oops between Parker (18 points, eight assists) and former Maryland star Toliver (18 points, six assists).
As for Beard, a four-time All-Star during her days with the Mystics, the last two injury-plagued years that kept her on the bench in Washington are clearly behind her. Beard had 16 points and five assists.
“I really enjoyed it [being in Washington]” Beard said. “I felt like I was playing for the fans again. It was good to be back and see familiar faces.” Beard appears to be in the perfect situation with the Sparks, and credits her new teammates and coaching staff with helping her in her first season back on the court in two years.
“It feels good. I feel very blessed to be in this environment that coach [Carol] Ross has created,” Beard said. As for her new team’s game plan to beat her old team, Beard said it was to take Crystal Langhorne out of the game. It worked.
“I remember the score being 30-36,” Thomas said. We fought back and got it to six points. Next thing I knew, we were down 15 going into halftime. We want to think of ourselves as a defensive team but we let people get the easiest baskets on us.”
The Sparks finished the game shooting 61.9 percent from the floor and connected on 7 of 9 from the three-point line. The Mystics shot just 36.2 from the floor and were 4 of 12 from three-point range.
“It comes down to getting stops,” Thomas said. “You have to be on point, you have to box out and play attention to all aspects of the game.”