- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2000


The Washington Mystics didn't make getting in the playoffs easy on anyone, especially themselves.
But on the final day of the regular season, they did what they needed to do. And now they're in the WNBA playoffs for the first time.
The Mystics secured the Eastern Conference's final playoff position finally by defeating Cleveland 60-48 last night before 17,538 at MCI Center. As the No. 4 seed, they'll host New York on Saturday at 8 p.m. in the first game of a best-of-three series.
Fueled by rabid defensive play, the Mystics scored the game's final nine points to close out the Rockers, who already were assured of the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed going into the game. The Mystics recorded a team-record 19 steals and limited the Rockers to just 22 second-half points.
Gritty veteran forward Vicky Bullett spearheaded the Mystics' effort with her hustling play and determination. She finished with 14 points and seven rebounds but contributed much more through her motivation.
"She did everything that a leader does and then some," teammate Keisha Anderson said. "A lot of credit goes to her tonight. She kept us together."
Said Bullett: "I took control… . If I can't be vocal and lead this team, I'll lead by example. I tried to get steals, dive for balls, get blocked shots. If that doesn't motivate my team to follow me … "
The Mystics (14-18) needed to win to get in the playoffs because Detroit, with whom the Mystics were tied for fourth place going in, beat New York. The Mystics get in the playoffs over the Shock (14-18) because they have the better head-to-head record.
Fittingly, the Mystics won behind what interim coach Darrell Walker preached since he took over: pressure defense and uptempo offense. After a shaky start, the Mystics completely shut down the Rockers' offense with their swarming pressure.
In crunch time, the Mystics turned to Bullett, Chamique Holdsclaw, Nikki McCray, and little else. The three combined for 34 of the Mystics' 36 second-half points, although Murriel Page hit a huge shot, a jumper with the shot clock running down that put the Mystics up 55-48 with 1:33 to go.
McCray paced the Mystics with 20 points, 17 in the second half, and Anderson contributed seven assists and five steals despite going scoreless.
Cleveland raced to a double-digit lead midway through the first half doing the same things opponents have done against the Mystics all season: break their pressure, hit the offensive glass and use a lot of screens. Down 24-13 with eight minutes left in the opening half and their fans growing agitated, the Mystics responded with a game-saving run.
"I told them, 'Look, this is what you've been working hard for all year,' " Walker said he told the Mystics in a first-half timeout. "I said, 'Lock down and play defense and see if you can't go in down two or three points at halftime.' "
The Mystics did just that. In holding the Rockers to two points in the half's final eight minutes, the hosts cut Cleveland's lead to 26-24 at the break. Bullett was instrumental in the rally, endlessly harassing Cleveland post players and finishing the half with eight points to go with five rebounds.
The Mystics picked up early in the second half where they left off in the first, scoring 11 of the half's first 15 points to lead 35-30 with 16 minutes to go.
Now the Mystics face a team that they've beaten twice this season in New York. And although they've lost six of their last nine games, the Mystics know the playoffs are a different story.
"This is another season," Holdsclaw said. "[The regular season] doesn't matter any more."

Notes Point guard Andrea Nagy will be added to the 11-player playoff roster and guard Renee Robinson will be dropped before Saturday's game. Nagy has missed the last nine games with a strained groin and has not participated full speed in practice, but the team is hopeful she will be ready Saturday… . For the third consecutive year, the Mystics concluded the regular season as WNBA attendance leaders, averaging 15,258.

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