They say it's not how you start, but how you finish.
Don't tell the Connecticut Sun that.
A strong first quarter and dominant fourth quarter led the Sun to a 14-point victory over the number two seed in the Eastern Conference, 77-63. Washington, owners of the second-stingiest defense in the league, gave up 16 points more than their season average. By contrast, they were held to just two points under their usual total, which is a bad sign for a team with championship aspirations.
The way the Sun won, with two excellent quarters as the book ends for two in which they were outscored, was a perfect encapsulation of the way their season has gone.
With a record near .500, a points scored average near identical to the point scored against, and long losing streaks punctuated by winning streaks, the fact that they would play well only half the time is fitting.
They can attribute this win (They're first over the Eastern Conference in 58 days) to Alex Bentley, who dropped 31 points on 12-22 shooting, including 3-4 from the field.
Bentley, who dropped 31 points on 12-22 shooting, including 3-4 from the field. Her coach, Anne Donovan, wasn't surprised.
"Alex is back to her usual self. She is aggressive, getting it from the perimeter, driving off the dribble, and getting to the paint."
For the Mystics, only Emma Meesseman was in double figures, scoring 15 points on 7-12 shooting. She, along with Stefanie Dolson, form a two-man big team that was had a total of five rebounds. The team as a whole only had 23, while the Sun has 33.
Washington actually managed to tie it up at about seven minutes in the final period. After scoring 14 straight points to make it 62-all, there was a real feeling that the Sun might blow it. But instead of folding, they went on a 24-10 run to end the game. After the game, Mystics head coach Mike Thibault was blunt:
"Everything went wrong. They got full court drives, they got offensive boards, we missed some easy shots. It was just a series of those type of plays. Give them credit, they shot the hell out of it tonight, but with our defensive scheme (Alex) Bentley certainly shouldn't have gotten 31 tonight. She played great, she made shots early and gave herself confidence."
Some more relevant stats: Washington shot 41% from the field, 30% from the three point line. The Sun shot 53% from the field, and 56% from the three point line. The only spot where the Mystics outscored the Sun was at the free throw line, making 16-22 to Connecticut's 7-10. The Sun outscored the Mystics by nine in the first, and seven in fourth, and were outscored by one in the second and third quarters.
This loss dropped the Mystics from the second to the third seed in the East, behind the Chicago Sky. The Sun, meanwhile, moved one step closer to the fourth and final seed Indiana Fever.
The Sun and the Mystics face off again on Sunday, in a game that could be a turning point for both teams; the players, like Shekinna Stricklen of the Sun, know this well:
"This was a must win and I think Sunday will be even bigger."
The Sun and the Mystics go to Washington on August 9th, starting at 4 pm.