Monday, August 20, 2007

It was all going so well for the Washington Mystics, who had done their part by beating Connecticut earlier in the afternoon. That meant New York had to win its game against Chicago to earn the final spot in the WNBA’s Eastern Conference playoffs or Washington would be in.

Chicago took a seven-point lead into the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden.

That is when the Sky fell on the Mystics’ season.

The Liberty outscored Chicago 20-7 in the final quarter for a 58-52 win. New York and Washington finished the regular season with 16-18 records, but the Liberty owned the tiebreaker after winning three of four games with Washington.

The Mystics got the bad news shortly after going through security at the Hartford (Conn.) airport before heading home.

“My heart just dropped,” said Mystics guard Alana Beard, who learned of the Liberty’s win via text message from a friend. “My head went down, and tears started coming out. And there was nothing I could do about it. It was like a dagger through the heart considering all we have been through this season.”

Washington had forced New York into the do-or-die scenario with a dramatic 76-74 win at Mohegan Sun Arena when Monique Currie made the game-winning 3-pointer just before the final buzzer. The Mystics headed for the airport knowing their playoff fate would be resolved 130 miles away from Uncasville, Conn., in New York.

“It has me doing something I usually don’t do,” forward DeLisha Milton-Jones said as the team was waiting for its delayed flight. “I am having a drink. I don’t want to sit in the corner of the airport and cry.”

And that’s how Washington’s up-and-down season ended.

The Mystics began 0-8 and saw coach Richie Adubato resign four games in partly because he disagreed with trading veteran center Chasity Melvin to Chicago for Currie. Interim coach Tree Rollins took over and rallied the team, which won 14 of its next 21 and was in playoff contention.

In fact, the Mystics had a chance to lock up a postseason spot last week with New York visiting Verizon Center. Instead, the Liberty escaped with a 73-72 victory and ultimately won three straight to end the season. New York will meet top-seeded Detroit in the first round of the playoffs.

“We didn’t slam the door,” Rollins said. “Overall, I am proud of the way we have played. We are young experience-wise and came a long way. We have a promising future.”

It remains to be seen whether Rollins will be part of that. The interim coach said he has not yet had any discussions with management about continuing the job. Milton-Jones is among those now a free agent.

The Mystics nearly blew any postseason chances in yesterday’s first half, falling behind the Sun by 11 points at the break, and Rollins minced no words at halftime.

“I pretty much told them to win or go home,” Rollins said “We knew we weren’t playing as a team. I told them, ‘I know what you’re feeling inside.’ Everybody wants to be the one to carry the team, but only the team can win. Individuals can’t win the game. They came out in the third quarter and sparked a [14-0] run.”

With the Sun ahead 74-73 in the closing seconds, the Mystics’ Beard (21 points) was isolated on the Sun’s top player, Katie Douglas (21 points). Beard threw the ball over Connecticut’s 7-foot-2 center, Margo Dydek, to Currie (13 points) in the left corner.

“Everybody collapsed on [Beard] once she got past Douglas,” Currie said. “She kicked it out to me. It was a little off, but I was able to chase it down. I saw the clock was [running] down, so I knew I had to shoot it. I took the shot, and luckily it went in.”

c Mike Scandura contributed to this article from Uncasville, Conn.

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