Both the Fever and the Mystics missed their first five shots Sunday afternoon. Indiana would go on to miss their first 12, but forced Washington into the far worse offensive first half: just 16 points on 20 percent shooting.
The Mystics won the second half by a point, but it was not enough to overcome an overall performance that head coach Mike Thibault apologized to the fans about after the game.
The Fever, led by 23 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks from Tamika Catchings took a 65-52 win at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., their second victory over the Mystics (8-9) in three days. In the three games the two teams have played against each other this year, both have shot under 38 percent overall and averaged less than 68 points per game.
"I don't think it was [Catchings] per se that was the reason that we lost the game," said Mystics forward Monique Currie. "She had a good game, but I just think that offensively we didn't have it today. We didn't make baskets and we didn't find other ways to make up for that. We hardly offensive rebounded and when you're not shooting well, you gotta find ways to get extra baskets and we didn't."
"Right now Indiana's better than us, because they understand as champions how hard you have to play every night to give yourselves a chance to win," Thibault said. "We haven't figured that out.
"Tamika Catchings does not allow them to play soft. You have a leader on their team who when you join their team, whoever you are, you conform because you're going to be embarrassed by her if you don't play the same way. And their whole team plays that way - it's contagious."
Washington led 9-8 after the first quarter, but their offense remained just as bad in the second, while Indiana started to knock down some shots. The Fever went 3-21 from the field in the first and 7-16 in the second. They also made six free throws in the second compared to none in the first and outscored the Mystics 22-7 in the second frame. The Mystics' previous low for a 10-minute non-overtime quarter this season was eight in the fourth quarter just two days earlier at Indiana.
Currie scored six points in the first three minutes and four seconds of the third quarter and seemed determined to lead a comeback. However, Catchings finished with nine points in the quarter and helped the Fever maintain a 13-point lead heading into the fourth.
A couple of other signs of hope for the Mystics came from rookies. Tayler Hill made a three with 1:09 remaining in the third that got the crowd going and cut the deficit to nine. The Mystics allowed Indiana to close out the quarter with four straight points and the momentum was killed, but Nadirah McKenith made a similarly big three at 6:24 in the fourth to cut it to 10. The Mystics were definitely still in it at that point, despite their awful second quarter, and that is a testament to how well the rookies hung in there despite it being a rough outing for the team as a whole. Hill played 20-plus minutes for the first time since July 6 and McKenith played 20-plus minutes for the first time in her career.
The closest the Mystics came to the Fever in the fourth was within seven - they couldn't string enough baskets together to complete the comeback. Erlana Larkins helped Indiana with seven points and 10 boards, while Shavonte Zellous was second on the team with 12 points. Karima Christmas added nine points and eight rebounds.
On the other side, Currie led the Mystics with 15 points, while McKenith and Kia Vaughn added eight apiece and Tayler Hill chipped in with seven, which included a 4-4 effort from the line. Michelle Snow led the team with seven rebounds.
Crystal Langhorne, arguably the Mystics' go-to scorer if not Ivory Latta, was held scoreless and was 0-5 from the field, as was Emma Meesseman. Langhorne has been held scoreless in all three first halves against the Fever this year, but in the first two games she bounced back to score 16 and 8. Sunday marked the fifth time this season that Crystal has failed to reach double figures. After scoring her previous season-low of four points at Phoenix, she bounced back with 16 and 27 in the next two games.
It is hard to imagine Langhorne, and the Mystics as a whole, letting what happened on Sunday trickle into their next game on Wednesday, which is at home against Chicago. Both their 52 points and 30.9 percent field goal percentage marked season lows and they hope those will remain their lows for the rest of the season.
But the Sky are going to be tough to beat even if the Mystics put forth a solid effort. They are a team that has moved past Atlanta and is now flirting with being the best in the WNBA. Washington, on the other hand, still has that lingering issue of not being able to beat the better teams in the league, though they did hold their own the last time they played the Sky.
If the Mystics can beat Chicago it would be huge and may get rid of the bad taste of dropping two important games against the Fever, losses that have moved them into a tie with Indiana (7-8). Right now, their superior winning percentage is the only thing keeping Washington in third place in the East. But if they beat the Sky, they will get that monkey off their back of not beating a team with a winning record since June 8 when they topped Minnesota, and they will be able to call themselves a .500 team at the effective halfway point that is the All-Star Game.
"It's a must-win game that we need," Latta said. "We have to just go out there and give it all we got, play 100 percent and just lay it all out there on the line."