It felt like the Mystics were snapping a losing streak longer than two games as the fourth quarter played out Friday night at the Verizon Center.
Ivory Latta made a three with 6:57 remaining to put Washington up 57-51 and followed it with an emphatic celebration. It had been a frustrating previous five days for the Mystics and a quiet night for Ivory before that shot and she was letting the tension go.
Latta hit from downtown again about two minutes later to make it 62-52 and she and the crowd started getting even more excited. Angel McCoughtry turned the ball over on the ensuing Dream possession and then Kia Vaughn made a put-back layup soon after and continued Latta's effort to fire up the crowd with an equally emotional reaction.
Both Mystics fans and players knew that the team was not expected to win the game. Washington had not defeated Atlanta in two years and was having trouble maintaining leads against good teams of late. It looked like the once 12-13 team was headed for a 12-17 record, but Friday's 74-64 win over the Dream prevented that. Now the Mystics are 13-15 and for the moment can simply savor what it feels like to be back in the win column, a feeling that was never going to be guaranteed during this four game stretch against only Chicago or Atlanta.
"We don't play again until next Wednesday, so we can feel good for several days," said Mystics head coach Mike Thibault. "It's miserable otherwise."
One reason there was so much emotion associated with this win is because the Mystics are fighting for their playoff lives. The win and New York's loss the same night put the Mystics two games ahead of the fifth place Liberty and back into a tie for third with the Fever. A loss and a Liberty win would have put Washington in a tie for the last playoff spot and they currently do not have the tiebreaker against New York.
It was also a huge win for the four Mystics who returned from 2012 and saw the Dream sweep them last year and nearly do it again this year.
"It's kind of like the monkey's off our back with them," said Mystic forward Monique Currie. "We've played them so many times and haven't found a way to beat them. But tonight we stuck to our game plan and made them uncomfortable and we were able to win."
The Mystics handed the Dream a dose of their own medicine with 10 steals in the game. Atlanta had just five. Washington led by four after the first quarter and two at halftime. They never got a huge lead, but, unlike in their two previous games, they were able to show some mental toughness and hold on for a critical win.
Currie led the way for Washington with 15 points and also had seven rebounds and three steals. Meanwhile, Kia Vaughn made her second straight start and scored four points in the first minute of the game after scoring 13 in a four minute and five second span during the first quarter on Tuesday against the Sky. Vaughn finished with 12 points, 10 boards and two blocks. Latta chipped in with 14 points to extend her double figure scoring streak to seven games. Nobody else on the Mystics has a streak longer than two.
For the Dream, McCoughtry was her MVP-caliber self in many ways. She finished with a game-high 17 points, along with eight rebounds and eight assists for a near triple-double. She also had a game-high eight free throw attempts, but only two of those came in the final three quarters, which means the Mystics made her try to beat them from the field for the most part later in the game. And Angel went just 6-20 from the field and led both sides with seven 3-point attempts without making any. Atlanta as a team went 1-18 from beyond the arc and they are the worst 3-point shooting team in the WNBA this season.
"Angel's a great player," Currie said. "She's and Olympian, she's an All-Star and she's going to keep her team in games. What we can do is kind of try to slow her down, but not let anyone else really go off because Angel's gonna do what she does day in and day out. We put a lot of pressure on her, she made a lot of tough shots, but what matters in the end is that we won the game."
The Dream were without Sancho Lyttle for the 12th consecutive game and 18th time in their last 19, but they are still a 14-10 basketball team and it was an impressive win for the Mystics.
The two teams will meet again in what will be the Mystics' next game and as Thibault said it will be next Wednesday. The Dream will have played a game against the Sky before that meeting.
But for now, the Mystics can relax knowing that the Liberty are no longer a single day away from catching them.