The Mystics almost had their second straight blow out victory Saturday night, but, considering the scare the Seattle Storm gave them late, it was quite a relief for them when the final buzzer sounded and they came away with a 62-59 victory at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
It was especially relieving for head coach Mike Thibault, who knew he no longer had to worry about chasing history. The win was Thibault's 212th in the regular season as a WNBA head coach, putting him at No. 1 on the all-time list, one ahead of the great Van Chancellor. 206 of those wins came with the Connecticut Sun, while six have now come with the Mystics.
"I'm glad this game is done," Thibault said with a laugh. "Everybody else has been talking about it.
"I guess it's one of those things that you'll think more about when your career ends or at the end of the season. Right now we're trying to make some history here and I plan on being around hopefully to see 300 wins or 400 wins. The goal here is to try to make the playoffs and then win a playoff series. I know it's been a long time since the Mystics have won a playoff series so that's kind of first on the list for me.
"The other part of it is I'm kind of in awe that I've passed a guy like Van Chancellor, who won four championships in this league and was a cornerstone of the start of this league. I had a great relationship with him when he was in the league and enjoyed talking to him. I thought a lot about him at the end of the game tonight because of what he accomplished."
The Mystics won Saturday night despite scoring a season-low 62 points and shooting a season-low 32.7 percent from the field. It was somewhat surprising that Seattle actually ended up out-shooting them (37 percent) after the Mystics won the field goal percentage battle 43.8 to 27.3 in the first quarter and led 21-7.
Shekinna Stricklen led the Storm's comeback effort with 13 second half points, more than any Mystic player had for the whole game. Tina Thompson, who dropped 30 in the first meeting between Seattle and Washington earlier this year, added seven in the second half and Alysha Clark had six.
Clark was 2-2 from downtown with a back-breaking three that came with 1.3 seconds remaining in the third quarter and another that came 16 seconds into the fourth. Those back-to-back triples cut the Mystics' lead from 11 to five.
From 4:45 in the third to 2:18 in the fourth the Storm were 7-9 from beyond the arc as a team. Thompson and Stricklen accounted for the five other makes besides Clark's. The problem for Seattle is that they were 1-17 from long range during the rest of the game, including 0-3 in the last 10 seconds, albeit in desperation mode.
Washington was led in scoring by Crystal Langhorne who had 12. Previously the lowest point total of a Mystics leading scorer this season was 15 (Langhorne v. Atlanta on June 2). Ivory Latta added 11 amid a rough 2-13 night from the floor.
"We couldn't get discouraged," Latta said. "Everybody stayed composed, everybody had their emotions in tact and we came out with a big win."
"Our defense was really good for us tonight," Langhorne said. "Our offense wasn't great but we got stops when we needed to and executed when we needed to."
The Mystics improved to 6-6 with the win, while Seattle fell to 5-7. Washington moved ahead of the idle Liberty and into third place in the East at least for the moment, but New York has the chance to tie themselves with the Mystics again when they play Chicago at 3 p.m. Sunday. Then again, if the Liberty do win on Sunday, the Mystics will be playing for second place when they take on the Sky next Wednesday in Chicago.
The Sky got off to the same 4-1 start the Mystics got off to and have impressed with their star rookie Elena Delle Donne, who is already in MVP conversations. Chicago is one of three WNBA teams the Mystics have yet to face and they are one of only two teams in the East that currently has a winning record. Playing at Chicago presents a good opportunity for Washington to prove themselves.
"They have a great team," Langhorne said of the Sky. "They can score. They have Sylvia [Fowles], they have Delle Donne, they have Epiphanny Prince and just a lot of pieces around them that make them a really good team. So it's gonna be tough."
But the Mystics could use a challenge. Their head coach just accomplished a pretty big feat - the only thing left for them to do is set their sights higher.
"I'm really happy for him, he's worked hard to get to this point," Latta said of Thibault's record. "But we're not gonna stop right here. We're gonna continue to get him more wins, get more wins for the organization and we're gonna keep going."