Washington, D.C. -- The only way to describe the game between the Washington Mystics and the Chicago Sky on Sunday afternoon would be knock down, drag out. In the end, Chicago prevailed in the final two seconds to leave the nation's capital with a 66-64 win.
"The Eastern Conference is so close," Delle Donne said. "We are just focused on winning every game; we have to win our next game."
The main indicator for how hard fought this game was? About midway through the first quarter, Elena Delle Donne lost her right shoe in transition. She not only played two possessions without it, but she also won the rebounding battle before signaling to a fan to throw it back to her and putting it back on after getting the Sky offense started.
With three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Delle Donne would tie the game at 59 with a jump shot. On the next possession, a Delle Donne free throw would give the Sky a one-point lead.
There would be two more lead changes before Kara Lawson hit a right-wing three-pointer to tie the game at 64. However, with six seconds left, the lane opened for Cappie Pondexter, who was able to score the winning driving-layup.
"[Tierra] Ruffin-Pratt is a solid defender, and I was surprised she opened the lane," Pondexter said. "Erika [de Souza] came with a great screen, and she didn't know how to play it. I saw the lane open, and I just took it."
Chicago was led by Delle Donne with 18 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. Allie Quigley also had 15. Lawson led all scorers with 19 for Washington.
"It was one of those mental games," Ivory Latta said. "The last game we lost by two and this game we won by two... we just have to get ready to take our day off, enjoy it, but get ready to get back in the gym and correct some things."
When the afternoon started, it seemed that everything was going Chicago's way. Jessica Breland, Courtney Vandersloot and Delle Donne helped lead a six to nothing run that would put the Sky up 12-6.
However, one thing is clear—the Mystics are a very different team when Ivory Latta is in the game. She would lead the Mystics as they went on a nine to three run, scoring five of those nine points and tying the game at 15 heading into the second quarter.
Chicago would not be silenced, however, and opened up the second quarter with an 8-0 run led by Quigley. Washington would end that run with a pair of Stefanie Dolson free throws, but Delle Donne would answer with four quick points and a court vision that would continue to rev Chicago as she ran their offense.
Lawson and Latta would not go down without a fight before the half, however. In the final two minutes, they would score a combined ten points, (including two threes between them) to bring the Mystics within two before the half, 35-33. The rebounding was identical, with each team pulling down 19.
The third quarter would be tightly contested for the first half, but a dagger three-pointer by Lawson would be a momentum changer for Washington. Soon after they would regain the lead for the first time since the first quarter on a Lawson baseline jumper that put them up 43-42.
The next possession, Emma Meesseman would hit a jumper, which was quickly followed by Tierra Ruffin-Pratt sprinting down to the defensive end to take a charge. Latta was not done either, sinking a three and then staring down the Chicago bench as she ran past—But Chicago's superstar would not go away quietly. Delle Donne would score four quick points to regain the lead for the Sky heading into the final quarter, 51-50.
The Sky would open up the fourth with a six to nothing run, which would be immediately followed by a nine to nothing run for Washington. Delle Donne would end that critical run. The ensuing action in the final minutes would be just as competitive as the rest of the game with Chicago ultimately coming out on top and proving to be the perpetual thorn in Washington's side for the 2015 season.
"You shoot 33 percent, you turn it over 18 times; probably can't expect to win and yet we had a chance," Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said. "Cappie [Pondexter] made a great shot, we screwed up the defensive part of that but she made a great play. Give them credit."
When it comes to playoffs, Delle Donne recognizes the importance of key victories in the Eastern Conference.
"It's huge to try and get home court advantage," Delle Donne said. "But obviously however the cards play out, we are gonna be ready to go in playoffs no matter what."