Mystics dominate Sparks to punch ticket to WNBA semis
The jubilation might have started when Kristi Toliver waved two hands toward herself to celebrate a long third quarter 3-pointer. Washington Mystics fans ate it up, perhaps not knowing that even more offensive firepower was ahead.
It was during one of the last timeouts of the game that they really screamed, an appropriate reward for the dominance they’d witnessed.
The Mystics advanced to the semifinals of the WNBA playoffs for the second straight season by dominating the Los Angeles Sparks, 96-64, Thursday evening. Washington, the No. 3 seed, will play a best-of-five series with the No. 2 Atlanta Dream starting Sunday in Atlanta.
Six Mystics scored in double figures and the team shot 56.3 percent from the field. They lapped Los Angeles in 3-point shooting for three quarters and sank all 13 of their free throws.
Elena Delle Donne led all players both with 19 points and 12 rebounds. LaToya Sanders added 14 points, seven boards, four steals and three blocks. Candace Parker led Los Angeles, scoring 16.
Though they played at the Charles E. Smith Center at George Washington University rather than their usual digs at Capital One Arena, the Mystics never looked out of their element. However vocal the fans were, the announced crowd of 3,548 still didn’t fill the very top rows of the much smaller arena, normally the home of the Colonials.
The Sparks were first to get hot, scoring on four straight possessions to grab an 8-2 lead, but the Mystics controlled the rest of the first half. Washington began a 15-2 run with coast-to-coast play in which Delle Donne passed upcourt to Ariel Atkins, who dished it down low to LaToya Sanders for a lay-in.
Atkins, an WNBA all-rookie selection, scored five points during the run, and Delle Donne put in the final six before Los Angeles finally broke the streak with a free throw.
While Parker kept the Sparks hanging in with some brilliant moves, including a fadeaway jumper in the post, the Mystics only kept rolling in the second frame. Despite drawing double-teams around the court, Delle Donne led the Mystics with 13 points by halftime on 5-for-8 shooting and already grabbed nine rebounds by that point.
In a trip off the bench, Tianna Hawkins scored the final eight points of the half, including consecutive 3-pointers. When Delle Donne was doubled up to the left side of the basket, she sent a long baseline pass to Hawkins in the far corner for her second trey.
The Mystics were in control with a 50-29 halftime lead and grew it to 75-46 after three quarters. Washington’s offense continued exploiting the Sparks’ mistakes, and someone was always open. One minute, it was Natasha Cloud passing underneath to Sanders to score; the next, Sanders was finding Atkins open for a bucket.
The beatdown didn’t stop when Delle Donne left the game to a standing ovation. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough scored a quick four points after entering the game for the first time in the final three minutes a jumper, a steal after the inbound pass and a layup.
The one-sided affair looked nothing like the two sides’ regular season matchup a week ago, when Cloud delivered a 69-67 win on a buzzer-beating jumper.
The Mystics made it to the 2017 semis as the league’s sixth seed, upsetting No. 3 New York in the second round to get there. But they were swept by Minnesota, the top seed and eventual champions.
The Sparks beat one of their rivals, the Minnesota Lynx, 75-68 in the first round to advance to the Washington game. After a 19-15 regular season, their 2018 campaign is over.