WNBA: Washington Upbeat Despite Pre-Playoff Loss to Atlanta
WASHINGTON – For the first time since 2002, the Washington Mystics will meet the New York Liberty in a playoff series.
The Mystics cemented their trip back to the Big Apple by dropping a 73-71 decision to the Atlanta Dream Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center.
Washington, which finished the regular season with an 18-16 record, is in the playoffs for a third consecutive season, all which have come since Mike Thibault was grabbed as coach following the Connecticut Sun ousting him after a decade of success but devoid of a title.
For the Mystics, it's the first time in franchise history that they have qualified for the playoffs in three straight seasons.
They will be the No. 4 seed.
The Liberty finished with the WNBA’s best overall record with 23 being their most-ever total wins in the regular season.
In 2010 Washington with its best total at 22 tied New York and won the deadlock to gain the East's top seed, only to be eliminated in the first round by Atlanta.
Game one of the New York-Washington best-of-three series starts Friday at Madison Square Garden at 7:00 p.m.
The Mystics will host the second game Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. in a game that will be televised on ESPN.
Should a third game be necessary, the Liberty will host it on Tuesday, Sept. 22 on ESPN2 at a time to be determined.
Washington will be looking to advance past the first round.
In recent times, the Mystics lost to the Dream in three games in 2013 and to the Indiana Fever in two games last summer.
The other opening series in the East has Indiana meeting No. 2 Chicago, which won the Eastern playoffs a year ago despite being the fourth seed.
This past season, the Mystics won three of the four New York matchups, including 82-55 last Friday night.
In that game, the Liberty’s top players saw limited action so that result will probably matter little.
“Going into playoffs, everybody is 0-0,” Washington guard Ivory Latta said. “Those games against New York this season don’t mean anything now. It is what I call the ‘money time.’
"You have to get ready. It is an exciting time," the former North Carolina star guard said.
"We worked hard to get to this position and we are not going to get complacent just making it to the playoffs. We have to be focused. They are a great team so we just have to be ready.”
Thibault experimented and tinkered with his lineups throughout Sunday’s regular season finale against the Dream.
Yet he still was slightly annoyed following the game after watching the Mystics waste a 16-point second quarter lead, a 10-point halftime bulge and allow 49 points to the Dream after intermission.
“We have a lot of work to do before we get to a playoff game on Friday night,” Thibault said. “I hope that our players are not fooled by what happened in New York the other night.
"New York is going to be a little bit of a different team come Friday night than they were the other night. Hopefully we will be better too.”
Thibault added: " I had already made up my mind that I had a minute limit on some of our players too.
"I decided to go with the group that was out there but our turnovers were just terrible. That led to a lot of points for them. Twenty-eight or thirty percent of their points came off of our 16 turnovers.”
Three Mystics players scored in double figures led by Latta, who scored 14 points, shooting 5-for-13 from the field, 2-for-5 from three-point range and 2-for-2 from the free throw line.
Latta enjoyed a couple of highlights in which she broke a pair of Dream ankles with nice moves that resulted in made baskets.
Mystics guard Tayler Hill added 12 points along with center Kia Vaughn who scored 11 points.
Natasha Cloud handed out four assists and she’s looking forward to her first playoff experience after being drafted in the second round out of Saint Joseph's in Philadelphia.
“We’re looking forward to Friday night,” Cloud said. “We just have to put all of the pieces together.
"It’s been a surreal feeling to be able to contribute this season. We have to stick to what we do best as a team if we’re going to get past New York.”
Meanwhile, the Dream finished with a 15-19 record.
Veteran forward Angel McCoughtry ended her season with a flourish by scoring 13 of her game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter. She made 10-of-20 from the field.
Carla Cortijo (13 points), Reshanda Gray (10 points before being ejected after committing a flagrant foul with 8:11 remaining) and Tiffany Hayes (10) all reached double figures for the Dream.
Atlanta center Sancho Lyttle pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds and collected a game high four steals.
The Dream, who were eliminated from playoff contention following the Mystics overtime win over Indiana on September 8, completed a 4-0 sweep over the Mystics in the regular season.
Atlanta now enters the WNBA Draft Lottery and is assured of no worse than the fourth overall pick.
Joining the Seattle Storm, San Antonio Silver Stars and Copnnecticut in the lottery, the Dream will learn if Lady Luck smiles down on the night of September 24 when the draw of the four teams will be announced live on ESPN2 from the ESPN campus at halftime of the opener of the Easstern Conference final.
Barring a blockbuster trade involving the rights to the number one pick, the lottery winner will most likely choose University of Connecticut senior and two-time reigning national player of the year Breanna Stewart, who is considered the grand prize and one of the more lucrative talents available in the history of the draft.
The Dream, off a series of trades, will also have four of first 16 selections in next spring’s selections.
“We didn’t want to end the season on a bad note especially when we know we’re a better team than our record,” Hayes said.
“We’re just giving teams a little taste of what they’re going to see next year because we turned it on at the end of the season and it was too late for us.”
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