- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 11, 2018

By the fourth quarter, the steady staccato clacking of thousands of light-up blue plastic hand clappers had already molded into the background at the Capital One Arena, an incessant racket produced during the Washington Mystics’ Camp Day promotion.

With thousands of kids part of the 11,354 in attendance, the Mystics posted a simple message on the Jumbotron with about 30 minutes to tip-off Wednesday. “Louder,” the board directed campers. The result was ear-splitting.

But the energy from the crowd didn’t seem to transmit to the Mystics, who entered the fourth quarter trailing the Atlanta Dream by 17 points and concluded it with a 106-89 loss, only the third in Washington’s last nine contests. Atlanta captured its second road win in its last seven attempts, going one game above .500.

“Camp Day is my favorite day,” the Mystics’ Natasha Cloud said. “You get the kids in here, it’s a bunch of energy, and it’s great for us to play in. Unfortunately, we couldn’t give them a win today.”

Ariel Atkins knocked down a three on the Mystics’ first possession and Elena Delle Donne followed with another the next trip down the floor. It helped Washington jump to an eight-point edge midway through the first.

But Atlanta’s 9-2 run tied the game at 20. Then, with time expiring in the first, Alex Bentley sank a fade-away jumper to give the Dream a 29-27 lead.

“When you score 89 points, you should probably win,” coach Mike Thibault said. “But when you play defense as badly as we did, you don’t give yourself a chance to do that. It’s as bad as I think we’ve played defensively. Give Atlanta credit. They took a timeout after we got off to a good start and they just kind of regrouped and they took it to us.”

In Washington’s loss Sunday to the Seattle Storm, the Mystics allowed 97 points. Wednesday, they allowed a season-high 106 as Atlanta’s fast-paced offense ran rampant.

Renee Montgomery’s four-point play with under five minutes left in the first half pushed Atlanta’s advantage to 12. A raucous crowd momentarily quieted once Montgomery followed that play with another trey. Atlanta concluded the half shooting over 65 percent from the floor while Washington scored at a 47.4 percent clip.

“Feels like Atlanta plays so fast that they’re always in transition and we’re just not able to get into our defense,” Delle Donne said. “You’ve got to give credit to Atlanta with their pace. They’ve got so many skilled players, so if you leave one open, they’re going to knock it down.”

Following each stoppage of play, the campers rediscovered their verve. With the help of hype staff, blaring rap music and the opportunity to make the Jumbotron if they danced crazily enough, the nine-point deficit at halftime didn’t diminish enthusiasm in the arena.

Tianna Hawkins’ drive to the basket with about six minutes remaining in the third stoked the crowd, but the Mystics couldn’t sustain the momentum. Delle Donne committed a turnover a minute into the second half. Hawkins threw the ball away shortly before her layup. The Atlanta edge ballooned to 20 at one point in the third.

“We’ve proven that we can score the ball,” Cloud said. “You’ve got to get some stops along the way, and we’re just not getting stops right now.”

Atlanta finished with four players in double figures as the Dream shot over 60 percent from behind the arc. And the Mystics, in first place in the Eastern Conference, dropped their second straight game.

“They’re a team that plays with a high energy, so the kids kind of amplified their energy, if you will,” Cloud said. “They didn’t respect us on the defensive end, as they shouldn’t, because we weren’t able to get stops.”


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