Fans of the Connecticut Sun gave Washington Mystics coach Mike Thibault a standing ovation when he walked onto the court at Mohegan Sun arena and again when he was announced as the head coach.
They did significantly less cheering after his Washington squad walked out of the arena 66-62 winners over the hometown Sun.
Thibault coached Connecticut from 2003-last season, a stretch that included two trips to the WNBA Finals and coaching current Sun star Tina Charles to an MVP award last season. Tonight he led Washington - the last place team in the Eastern Conference last season - to a road victory over Connecticut, who now face many question marks after a slow start to the season.
This loss was the third in a row for the Sun who have started the season 1-3. More importantly, they only had eight healthy bodies Friday as Rene Montgomery, Tan White, and Kara Lawson all sat out with injuries.
"I’m really very proud of the effort of eight players that were able to go tonight," openly frustrated coach Anne Donovan said after the game.
The frustration in the coach's tone had to come from the way the Mystics were able to control tempo and momentum down the stretch, erasing a nine point deficit with six minutes left and limiting the Sun to only two points in the final six minutes.
Part of the Mystics' success late came from limiting reigning league MVP Tina Charles when it mattered most. Charles got her stats, 21 points and 12 rebounds, but it took her 25 shots to record those points, an inefficient total for a player who shoots most of her shots in the paint.
In addition to her inefficiency, Charles was frustrated throughout the night. Washington brought double and even triple teams at Charles, whose frustration led her to take a technical foul for arguing with the refs.
The night was epitomized for Charles on a play in the third quarter where she turned the ball over after being triple teamed. The expression on her face looked as if she was wondering what more she could do to help her tired teammates.
"We're a perfect team right now to double team because we don’t have any of our shooters on the perimeter and our spacing was poor," Donovan said.
Despite the limited roster, Kalana Greene said she didn't think fatigue was an issue, commenting, "I think all of us are in pretty good shape, I don’t think fatigue was necessarily an issue."
The Sun's performance down the stretch suggested otherwise.
Four Sun starters played over 34 minutes and they blew a nine point lead midway through the fourth.
"We were up by nine with six minutes left and momentum at home," Donovan said. "Those are the games you need to close out."
Coming out of a timeout, down by nine, Mystics guard Ivory Latta made a corner three right in front of the Connecticut bench. After a Connecticut turnover, she made another three from the top of the top of the key.
After a long two by Allison Hightower, the Sun's only scoring after the five minute mark, Monique Currie cut the lead to one with a circus layup through traffic.
The Mystic effectively sealed the game on an offensive rebound by veteran Michelle Snow with under a minute left.
Snow corralled the rebound and instead of passing it out to kill time made a right handed layup from the left block to give her team a three point lead.
After the game, Thibault mentioned the irony of the game sealing play after his team was out-rebounded 14-6 on the offensive boards.
"We were so bad on the offensive boards we got an offensive rebound to win the game," he said.
Now the Sun are stuck in a three game losing streak with their next two on the road and a roster plagued by injuries.
The Sun however, aren't buying the notion that they should be worried.
"We're all pros, we all got here the same way," Charles said. "Everyone has to step up."
Greene added that nobody will feel sorry for them because a few players are sidelined for a few weeks. "It’s tough but were not the only team in the league that has injuries."
Lawson should be back soon. Donovan said she thought Lawson would play tonight and said Lawson is day-to-day. White and Montgomery will both be out 3-4 weeks with a broken finger and a sprained ankle respectively.
For tonight though, the only solace the Sun could get was seeing an old friend succeed.
"It was bittersweet, I really miss him. If it was up to me he’d still be here," Charles said.
Donovan added, "Mike's a good friend" and "I was looking forward to seeing him."
Thibault said he was thanked by many fans before the game. After the game though, those same fans saw an old friend beat them on their own floor.