- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Washington Mystics, playing without injured team leader Elena Delle Donne, fell to the Phoenix Mercury 91-68 Wednesday at Capital One Arena for their second straight loss and their first two-game losing streak since June 11 and 14.

Hundreds of young summer campers crowded into the Mystics’ old stomping grounds hoping to see the Mystics bounce back from Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Sparks.

Despite the exuberance of an arena full of adolescent fans — kids who were loud and raucous even with Washington down by 20 late in the game — the Mystics couldn’t slow the Mercury attack.

Forward Tianna Hawkins led the Mystics with 24 points and 7 rebounds, followed by forward Ariel Atkins with 14 points.

The team missed Delle Donne, who broke her nose Sunday in the first quarter against the Sparks.

Center Brittney Griner led the Mercury with 25 points and forward DeWanna Bonner added 22 points, seven rebounds and five assists. The duo scored more than half of Phoenix’s points.

“Griner’s going to be dominant, but we’ve beaten them twice last year,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said.

Things have been a bit shaky for the Mystics over the past five days, between Friday’s 7.1 magnitude earthquake that suspended their contest against the Las Vegas Aces and Delle Donne’s nasal fracture.

“We have a couple injuries and people missing and coming back, so we’re fine,” Mystics forward LaToya Sanders said. “We just got to get back on the page we [were on] six weeks ago.”

The Mystics were strongest in the first quarter, leading the Mercury 27-22 at the end of the period. It was Washington’s highest-scoring quarter and the only time they earned more than 17 points in a quarter — low for a team that usually finishes games in the mid-80s.

Mystics duo Hawkins and Atkins combined for 18 points in the first quarter, besting leading Mercury scorers Griner and Bonner who went for 16 total.

Bonner’s second quarter 3-pointer launched the Mercury two points over the Mystics, paving the way for a Phoenix victory. The Mercury’s 27-point quarter gave them a 49-44 halftime lead.

It didn’t take long for the Mercury’s narrow lead to become something wider, as forward Sancho Lyttle added eight points in the third quarter.

By the fourth quarter, the Mystics could only put up 10 points. Thibault later said that “everything was wrong” for his squad.

“Everything was wrong,” Thibault said. “Making mistakes on what we’re supposed to do, slow rotations, playing with your hands down on shooters and giving up drives.”

Hawkins, who scored more than twice what she averages, was hot-handed throughout. Thibault said “it was a shame to waste it.”

Hawkins said Thibault left her with a message last season that rang true during Wednesday’s game.

“He said, ‘Give me a reason to keep you on the court,’” she said. “And I was like, ‘Alright, say no more.’”

The Mystics will look a lot different when they face the Aces Saturday at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. Center Emma Meesseman and guard Kim Mestdagh will be back after competing for Belgium in the FIBA Women’s EuroBasket tournament.

“I think it’s just a game that we have to bounce back from with that and learn from mistakes and get back to being the team we were about a week ago,” Hawkins said.

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