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Washington’s fire comes from its ‘Ivory’ tower

With her team looking down and out early, Ivory Latta’s 3-pointer with 1:54 left in the first quarter proved to be the turning point. Her playmaking combined with a staunch Mystics’ defense helped Washington maintain supremacy in the East.

Jesse D. Garralbrant - NBAE/Getty Images

Washington, DC -- The New York Liberty had done the unexpected through the first eight minutes of play: knocked a physical Washington Mystics team on their heels and held them to only two points on offense through nearly six minutes of play. Which is a huge feat considering Washington had victimized each of their last two opponents by 30+ points.

Dominating the paint and forcing the Mystics into an uncharacteristically dismal, 0-of-7 mark from three-point range to start the game, the Liberty held a 15-4 lead with two minutes remaining in the first frame. But at the 1:54 mark, the Liberty’s promising night was derailed by a three-point dagger from Ivory Latta.

Latta’s desperately needed shot sparked an 11-0 run that would stretch into the second quarter. New York’s 15-9 first quarter lead evaporated in only minutes as Latta assisted on a steal, crashed the boards, and hit another pull-up three to give her team an 18-17 lead in the second period.

After sinking her second clutch three-pointer of the night, Latta passionately waved her arms with visible emotion, as if signaling to fans at Verizon Center that the home team had finally shown up to play.

“We started off flat but you know that’s what a team is for when a teammate is down you have to find a way to pick them up,” said Latta.

From there, the Mystics never looked back. They aggressively attacked the paint, which opened up good looks from mid-range. Suddenly, Latta’s life inducing triple had caused Washington to morph into the offensive and defensive juggernaut they can be.

The Mystics opportunistically turned defense into offense and outscored New York 28-12 from that crucial point late in the first period to take a 32-27 lead at halftime.

In the third frame, both teams went cold shooting the ball, but Washington’s rock all night, Latta, once again revived them. Her ridiculous baseline spin move with just over a minute to play in the frame extended their lead to 10 points.

A familiar pattern by now, Latta’s shot making and passion brought out the best in her teammates, allowing the Mystics to get at the legs of New York and force eight third quarter Liberty turnovers. Washington held a 46-34 advantage heading into the final period.

The fourth quarter would be all Mystics as Elena Delle Donne and Tianna Hawkins got involved and put on a clinic in the paint. Latta’s fourth and final three-pointer with 2:22 to play was a fitting way to end what she herself had started. In fact, on a night when the Mystics weren’t shooting the ball well at all, Ivory Latta was a one-person wrecking crew from the perimeter.

She went 4-of-6 from long range while the rest of the team combined for an atrocious 0-of-20 from 3-point range.

“On nights where some of us aren’t able to knock down some of our shots because we’ve been on a crazy stretch of games, it was huge that they came out and provided that spark and took us to that next level,” Delle Donne said as she praised Latta and the play of the Mystics’ bench tonight.

As for the Liberty, lack of second quarter production is nothing new. Tonight marks the sixth straight game in which New York has failed to break the 20-point threshold in the second period. The causal chain went something like this: Latta lit the fire with her clutch first quarter three, Washington woke up, and a nasty Mystics’ defense that has now forced 19 or more turnovers in three straight games handled the rest.

“We’ve now won three games already – most of them at home – where we’ve shot terrible but we found a way to win,” Coach Thibault said on the team’s defense bailing them out. “I mean, we shot 31 percent tonight. We won because we defended the heck out of them.

And here everyone thought that the superwoman cape in Washington might belong exclusively to former league MVP, Elena Delle Donne. To the contrary, the scary part about the Mystics is that their roster is not a one-woman or even two-woman show. Tonight the 10-year veteran in Latta convincingly reminded the WNBA that great things often do come in small packages.