The Washington Mystics believed they were on the cusp of a turning point entering last night’s game against the Phoenix Mercury.
Riding a three-game winning streak, the Mystics felt good about themselves, and a win over the defending champions only would have been another step forward in their improvement. Instead, the Mystics regressed to the inconsistent turnover-laden team that lost five straight earlier this season in a 98-90 loss last night at Verizon Center.
Washington had no answer for Olympians Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter, the WNBA‘s top two scorers. Taurasi tied a game high with 31 points, and Pondexter added 28. The Phoenix stars combined to shoot 21-for-33 from the field.
“They caught us on poor defensive execution,” Mystics coach Tree Rollins said. “That falls on me as the head coach not having them prepared well enough to play defense, but it comes down to having heart. You can’t outscore them. You have to stop them.”
The Mystics’ losing has become formulaic. A mental lapse consisting of turnovers and blown defensive assignments leads to one devastating quarter from which Washington can’t recover.
Tuesday night, the breakdown happened in the third.
Coming off a 33-point loss to New York on Sunday and a lackluster first half, Phoenix (5-7) erupted in the second half. It opened the third quarter with a 13-2 run that ballooned their lead from one to double digits. After a six-point first half, Pondexter poured in 14 points in the third. Taurasi, who had 13 first-half points, continued her onslaught, and with both guards firing simultaneously, Phoenix scored 33 points in the quarter.
Meanwhile, Washington (5-8) stumbled.
“It was all us,” Rollins said when asked about the lopsided quarter. “We opened up with [an offensive] foul, then a turnover, then another foul and another turnover. That’s four possessions we didn’t get to take a shot. They pushed it from a one point game to a 10-point game immediately, so we spent the remainder of the game fighting to cut the lead.”
Forward Taj McWilliams-Franklin agreed: “We gave away another game we should have won. Our third quarter, which is normally our good quarter, we didn’t play good defense. We started the quarter with a lot of turnovers.”
Despite their flaws, the Mystics closed within 90-84 with 1:39 left, but Pondexter answered with a jumper to put the game out of reach.
McWilliams-Franklin scored a career-high 31 points in the loss.
Rollins said he will stir things up for the West Coast trip that begins Thursday at Los Angeles.
“We gotta do something with our lineup,” he said. “I’m just not happy with our lineup. We’re in this fog, this mud. Each and every game it’s the same thing. So one thing you can do is try to get a different combination in there.”