Mystics lose to Mercury in overtime

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Mike Thibault walked into the media room in the bowels of Entertainment and Sports Arena and just plopped down into a chair. After Sunday night’s overtime loss, the fury that radiated from the Washington Mystics’ coach was nearly visible and certainly could be felt.

There were no minced words.

“Wasted opportunity — that’s all I’ve got,” he said. “This is the most frustrating one of the year. Chance to beat a good offensive team, playing good defense for the most part, and let them off the hook.”

In a game that featured 12 lead changes and 13 ties, the Phoenix Mercury came away with a 99-90 victory despite trailing by six points with under four minutes remaining in regulation. The Mystics (9-6) were outscored 24-9 from that point on, including 14-5 in overtime. The Mercury’s nine-point margin at night’s end was the largest lead of the game.

The Mercury seized control with a Shey Peddy three-pointer, a Skylar Diggins-Smith three-point play, another Diggins-Smith basket and a Peddy layup to take a 95-87 lead with less than 90 seconds left in overtime. Diggins-Smith was a problem all night; she scored 27 points as Phoenix shot 51.4 percent.

“Yeah, we’re frustrated,” Mystics forward Myisha Hines-Allen said. “We felt like we gave them that game. [Alysha Clark] said it best: They wanted it more. But we play them Tuesday, so right from the jump, let them know it’s not going to be easy — we’re not going to give them the game.”

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Hines-Allen and Ariel Atkins got going in the fourth quarter — the pair scored every point during an 11-4 run that gave Washington an 81-75 lead with 3:56 to go. Hines-Allen finished with season highs in points (18) and rebounds (10); Atkins had 15 points despite a rough shooting night (3 for 16) because she was able to get to the free throw line (8 for 9).

Clark and Shakira Austin added 12 points apiece. Natasha Cloud had seven assists and has notched at least five in 17 straight games — a franchise record and the fifth-longest streak in WNBA history.

But the Mystics shot just 40 percent from the field, 27.6 percent from behind the arc and 64.7 percent from the free throw line. They also had 20 turnovers that led to 21 Phoenix points.

Late in the fourth quarter, Diana Taurasi and Diggins-Smith wouldn’t let the Mercury (5-8) die. Diggins-Smith completed a four-point play to give Phoenix an 85-83 lead with 32.1 seconds remaining. Two Clark free throws led to overtime after each team squandered its last possession. Taurasi fouled out early in the extra period; she had 20 points and seven assists.

“I don’t think they were better than us tonight,” Atkins said. “That’s not a good feeling.”

Here’s what else to know about the Mystics’ loss:

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Mystics star Elena Delle Donne missed a second consecutive game with an injury to her back that kept her off the floor for all but three games in the previous two seasons.

The Mystics have been supremely cautious with Delle Donne’s health, and Thibault said he and the medical staff made the call for her to sit Sunday. She spent the game on the bench in her warmup gear.

I think that she’s improved,” Thibault said. “But I think to be ready for what’s ahead and be ready for Tuesday [for another game against Phoenix], talking to our medical people, she’s got no issues with the surgery thing itself but just the muscle tightness from trying to get used to her body. There are [uncomfortable] days and just a carry-over from the other day. I talked to her today — she probably could play if it was a playoff game, but I think we are better served to not and try to be ready for Tuesday and beyond.”

Delle Donne left Wednesday’s win over Chicago in the second quarter with lower back tightness that Thibault later described as muscle spasms. In a scheduled rest day, she didn’t travel for Friday’s win at Minnesota, then was listed as probable for Sunday. The plan all season has been to mix in rest days in an attempt to have her fully healthy late in the season and in the playoffs.

Former Mystics standout Tina Charles returned to Entertainment and Sports Arena for the first time since she signed with the Mercury in the offseason.

Charles led the WNBA in scoring during her lone year with the Mystics in 2021 — she had signed for the 2020 season and then opted out — but the injury-laden squad did not compete for a title, which was why she signed. The 2012 MVP with the Connecticut Sun joined the Mercury with the same goal in mind, but again she has had to play a much different role than planned.

With Brittney Griner still wrongfully detained in Russia, Charles was asked to do more — the same thing that happened when she was in Washington with Delle Donne out. Charles started and posted 12 points and eight rebounds Sunday but declined to speak with reporters before or after the game.

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