Friday, August 17, 2007

The Washington Mystics’ wild season has been filled with an array of unusual twists.

It’s fitting, then, that the club’s postseason hopes will be decided in the final weekend of the season.

Presented the opportunity to clinch the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference, Washington instead stumbled to a 73-72 loss to New York last night at Verizon Center.

Janel McCarville scored 18 points for the Liberty, who are a half-game behind the Mystics (15-18). New York (14-18) holds the tiebreaker based on head-to-head record over Washington, which finishes the regular season on Sunday at Connecticut. So the Mystics much finish a game ahead in the standings to reach the playoffs.

New York completes its schedule with two home games, tonight against Connecticut and Sunday against Chicago.

DeLisha Milton-Jones led the Mystics last night with 21 points, while Alana Beard added 19 points.

“I’ve been talking all week how we controlled our destiny,” said Beard, whose team needs New York to lose at least once. “We could say we had it in our hands and that we were in the driver’s seat. Unfortunately it didn’t fall our way. But that’s the game. These are the moments you live and die for.”

The Liberty erased a last-minute deficit when Shameka Christon made two free throws with 9.8 seconds left. Washington had a chance to win it, but Beard’s buzzer-beating attempt clanked off the rim.

“We played hard but we didn’t get it done tonight,” Mystics coach Tree Rollins said. “Obviously we have one more game to get it done.”

New York thrived inside throughout, funneling it into forward Cathrine Kraayeveld and centers McCarville and Jessica Davenport. The three combined for 41 points but more importantly shot a collective 17-for-25 from the floor.

With such shooting efficiency, it hardly matters that the Liberty cooled from a scorching start from the perimeter and only scored eight second-chance points.

“We knew they would do that, get themselves inside,” Rollins said. “For whatever reason, they were able to stay in the lane a little bit longer I think than need be. It’s tough to battle anybody, male or female, for that long. McCarville, she’s been playing great the last few games.”

As she did in Tuesday’s victory over Connecticut, Beard saved some of her best moments for the final quarter. And while she didn’t score 18 points in the final period again, she did ignite Washington’s rally.

The Liberty held a 63-59 lead with less than six minutes remaining before a flurry from Beard promptly erased it. Beard picked off a pass and cruised in for a layup, and on Washington’s next possession drilled a 3-pointer to give the Mystics their first lead since the first quarter.

It didn’t last, but Beard provided a last-minute lead with a 3-pointer with 27.2 seconds remaining to put the Mystics up 72-71. But on the ensuing possession, Monique Currie fouled Christon, who proceeded to make the two free throws.

The near-miss was only the latest chapter of the Mystics’ bizarre season. Washington lost its first eight games — a franchise-record for the 10-year-old club — to leave it mired in the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.

During the slide, veteran Crystal Robinson retired to take a position as an assistant. Then coach Richie Adubato resigned with the club 0-4 and Rollins was named the interim coach, creating more tumult in an already shaky environment.

Yet that didn’t much bother the Mystics, who rattled off 15 victories in 24 games and found themselves on the precipice of the playoffs entering last night.

Now, the final game of the season will fittingly decide how successful Washington’s season really is.

“You would think so,” Milton-Jones said. “If someone was sitting down writing a book with a suspenseful ending, this would epitomize that. All throughout the year we thought it was going to come down to that last game in Connecticut. We have what we expected and now because it’s in front of us we have to go and handle our business accordingly.”

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