Arlington, TX — The Dallas Wings and the Washington Mystics, two teams at the bottom of the WNBA standings, faced each other Sunday at the College Park Center.
With both teams fighting for a playoff spot and a combined 19 losses in their last 20 combined games, it came down to who wanted it more: and the Mystics showed that they did, winning the contest 88-83.
“Well, it’s a usual game with Dallas – it’s back-and-forth, it’s physical as can be,” said Washington head coach Mike Thibault. “Turns into a free throw contest almost every time we play, and we survived.”
The Wings and Mystics have played almost identical this season. While Washington averaged 77.6 points, 32.1 rebounds and 16.3 assists per game prior to Sunday, the Wings averaged 81.2, 34 and 15.3. Both teams are averaging about six steals, three blocks and 40 percent from the field.
Both teams also entered Sunday’s game after similar losses to the top two teams in the league on Friday. Dallas nearly upset the Los Angeles Sparks, jumping out to a 21-9 first-quarter lead before losing 87-79, while Washington held a 55-51 lead over the Minnesota Lynx in the fourth quarter before falling 75-69. The two were also 1-1 against each other in the season.
A loss by Dallas and a win by Seattle or Connecticut would kill the Wings’ playoff hopes, and it was evident this was heavily on their minds throughout Sunday’s matchup. After trailing 20-17 in the first quarter, Dallas entered halftime with a narrow two-point 42-40 lead over the Mystics.
With Washington up 26-20 with 6:25 left in the second quarter after a pair of Emma Meesseman free throws, Skylar Diggins shot a three-pointer to cut the Mystics’ lead in half. After a missed three-point attempt by Washington’s Tayler Hill, a Plenette Pierson basket assisted by Diggins put the Wings within one.
The Mystics continued to hold their lead over the next few possessions before a Diggins layup tied the game at 33-33. Free throws by Aerial Powers gave Dallas its first lead since the first quarter and the game tied a couple more times until back-to-back baskets by Diggins and Powers put the Wings up 42-40 at the end of the half.
The Mystics shot the ball well during their time leading in the first half, but Dallas’ quick turnaround had the Wings shooting 51.5 percent versus Washington’s 36 percent.
Momentum continued to favor Dallas in the second half as they held a seven-point, 53-46 lead midway through the third quarter. The Mystics then went on a 6-0 run to cut Dallas’ lead to one, but a Karima Christmas free throw and another Diggins three-pointer put the Wings back up by five.
The game tied for the eighth time with 2:49 left in the third after a Hill jump shot tied the game 57-57, but Dallas closed the quarter to head into the fourth with a 64-62 lead.
The Wings held on to their lead midway through the quarter until a Kia Vaughn hook shot gave Washington a 70-69 lead with 6:12 left to play, the team’s first lead since the 1:14 mark in the second quarter. Christmas went 1-1 from the free throw line to tie the game at 70 apiece, and a Powers layup put Dallas back up 72-70 after a missed jumper by Meesseman.
Dallas held a 75-74 lead after a Diggins free throw, but a Hill three-pointer gave Washington a two-point lead with 3:47 left in the game as the Mystics continued to fight through. The Mystics and Wings then took turns at the free throw line on the next two possessions for 79-77 Washington lead before Vaughn helped put the Mystics back up four.
“I thought that defensively, we were much better down the stretch,” Thibault said. “We played a more defensive-oriented group; we gave up a little bit of offense doing that. But we got some stops at the end when we needed to.”
With just over one minute left to play, Washington held a five-point lead over the Wings. Dallas’ Odyssey Sims then hit a jump shot with 47 seconds left to cut the lead to three, and an offensive foul on Hill sent the ball back to the Wings.
A Diggins bank shot brought Dallas back within one with 24.6 seconds to play, and an intentional foul sent Washington to the line. Down 86-83, Dallas put the ball--and the game--back into Sims’ hand, who missed a potential game-tying three-pointer. Hill hit another pair of free throws, holding off the Wings for the victory.
“It was a tough game,” Vaughn said. “Two teams that needed to win. We played good; it could have gone either way, but great (Dallas) team.”
Now the Wings will leave their playoff dreams in the hands of the Atlanta Dream, who faced Seattle, and the Lynx, who faced Connecticut.
“For us, it is easy to fold,” said Diggins. “It’s tough to persevere through when things aren’t going your way, but it’s all about the bigger picture. We are going to be professionals, we are going to continue to work hard, we are going to continue to try to win ball games.
“Right now it doesn’t seem like lady luck is on our side. It’s frustrating. The losses are embarrassing, especially when you come so close like in the losses that we have been having. For us, we just have to stay positive and finish the season strong.”