The Mystics' losing streak was extended to three games Sunday afternoon after they fell, 75-57, to the Sparks at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. It was their worst loss of the season based on the margin and put their winning percentage at it's worst point since June 28 when they fell to 4-6 at the end of a five-game losing streak. Washington has now lost their only two games against the Sparks this year, making L.A. the second team to sweep them with Phoenix being the first.
"It's a reality check," said Mystics head coach Mike Thibault. "For the whole team - coaches, players, everybody...We're in a professional business and this is hard work."
The Mystics were beat by a Los Angeles team that showed they are about more than just Candace Parker, who was not with the team due to an injury to her right wrist. Nneka Ogwumike led the way with 22 points and she also had 10 rebounds for a double-double. Also with double-doubles were Lindsey Harding (11 points and 14 assists) and Jantel Lavender (13 points and 11 rebounds). Lavender made her second start of the season, while Harding fell two assists shy of tying Ticha Penicheiro's WNBA single-game record.
"They're still so talented," said Mystics forward Crystal Langhorne of the Sparks without Parker. "I've played with all of their guards so I know how they are and then they have great post players. Lavender - she [usually] comes off the bench, but she's a great post player too - and then you have Ogwumike."
The efforts of the five Sparks players in double figures scoring was just too much for Washington, even though Kristi Toliver was held to two points. Marissa Coleman, who finished with 11 points, got things started by scoring seven in the final two minutes and nine seconds of the first quarter at the tail end of what was a 19-2 run for L.A. to finish that period. That run brought the score to 21-11 Sparks after it had been 9-2 Mystics.
After Coleman scored again 51 seconds into the second quarter, the Mystics went on a 14-4 run of their own to come within two. However, the Sparks prevented it from being back and forth all afternoon by running away with the game in the third quarter. They won that period 26-13 to lead 59-39 entering the fourth.
From there, the Mystics were not able to pull out a miraculous comeback. The Sparks (13-7) just clearly had the better day, shooting 47.1 percent from the field to the Mystics' 34.2 percent en route to a blowout win after losing by seven to the Shock in their only other game this season without Parker.
For the Mystics, Crystal Langhorne was the only player in double figures scoring with a game-high 23. She led the Mystics in scoring for the first time since July 16, when she shared the team-high with Tierra Ruffin-Pratt with just 13. Langhorne still would have been the Mystics' leading scorer, but wouldn't have been the game's leading scorer if not for the 10 points she scored in the fourth quarter.
Rookie Emma Meesseman was second on the Mystics with nine points after getting to start for the first time in her WNBA career. She scored the game's first field goal and had four points in the first three minutes. So she was pretty effective to start the game and finished with 24 minutes and 47 seconds of playing time, the second most playing time of her career. The only game where she got more time was the Mystics' previous game against the Sparks on June 23. Only Langhorne and Ivory Latta played more than Emma for Washington on Sunday.
"She played extremely well with Lang the last time we played against L.A," Thibault said of the decision to start Meesseman. He also said he is trying to do more to develop the rookies.
"I feel like [Emma] needs to be on the court more minutes than I've been playing her and the best way to do that was to start her to ensure she got some minutes," Thibault said. "She's gonna go through some growing pains, but she needs that experience of playing more minutes right now. I think she has a chance to be a great player, but playing her 17, 18 minutes is not doing enough service to the development of her."
The rest of the season is going to be difficult for the Mystics, but Thibault has repeatedly said he knew it wasn't going to be easy when he took the job. In the immediate future, Washington has a road trip with stops in New York and then Minnesota, home of the WNBA-best Lynx.
"We have a tough road trip coming up," Langhorne said. "But we feel like we can play better against New York and then we have to go to Minnesota - that's going to be a tough atmosphere - and [we'll] try to get the win there too."