Washington Mystics collapse for overtime loss to Connecticut Sun

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Mike Thibault put it plainly: He didn’t have an easy answer for what happened Sunday afternoon, when his Washington Mystics let a 15-point halftime lead disappear.

In a matchup of WNBA title contenders in Uncasville, Conn., the Mystics fell to the Connecticut Sun in overtime, 74-72, after managing just 17 points in the second half, their lowest-scoring half of the season.

I don’t have a simple answer for you,” the Mystics coach said. “If I had, I would have fixed it.”

The Mystics (13-10) followed one of their best halves with their worst. They shot a blistering 56.2 percent in a dominant opening 20 minutes for a 49-34 halftime lead. It appeared the Mystics had benefited from having four days between games, the most of the season so far for the team that has played the most games in the WNBA. That stretch following Tuesday’s rout of the visiting Atlanta Dream allowed for some much-needed practice time and a chance to rest their legs, but that didn’t seem to matter after halftime.

The Mystics’ first four possessions of the second half: turnover, turnover, long missed three-pointer, rushed missed three-pointer. After their first-half dominance, the Mystics made just 9 of 37 shots (24.3 percent) after halftime. Their 10 third-quarter points matched a season low — and then they had seven in the fourth. The Mystics were 0 for 9 from behind the arc after halftime, and Thibault didn’t think they read the defense particularly well.

“I thought the first four minutes of the third quarter were key,” he said. “[Connecticut] played at a much more aggressive pace, particularly on the defensive end. … And then we missed some of the same shots we made in the first half. That takes the life out of a team. You can’t have starts like that. I told our players just now in the locker room, ‘We gave them confidence in those first couple minutes of the second half.’ ”

Still, the Mystics had their chances. Natasha Cloud missed a layup with 6.3 seconds left that could have won the game in regulation. Connecticut’s Brionna Jones blocked a short Cloud jumper with 2.8 seconds left in overtime that would have tied it, and then Myisha Hines-Allen missed a three-pointer as time expired.

Ariel Atkins had 18 points, four steals and four assists. Alysha Clark added 13 points and seven rebounds, including the 1,000th of her career. Hines-Allen grabbed a season-high 13 rebounds but shot 4 for 14 for eight points.

“I think we stopped being as aggressive,” Atkins said. “In the first half, you saw us with our eyes up, looking down the floor, looking down the lane. I feel like when we got to the second half, we were more focused on passing it around the perimeter. … I don’t think I was as aggressive in the second half as far as not only hunting shots but hunting shots for my teammates as well.”

Alyssa Thomas led the Sun (14-7) with 23 points and nine rebounds, and Courtney Williams had 15 points, six rebounds and four assists.

“The first-half defense was pretty solid,” Mystics center Shakira Austin said. “But that four-minute drought where we relaxed a lot, it hurt us. They got most of their points just off our simple turnovers and just getting second-chance opportunities.”

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

Elena Delle Donne had been scheduled to play Sunday, but the Mystics announced Friday that she would not travel to Connecticut. Thibault said the medical staff made the decision to hold her out after she had played the previous three games, including her first consecutive road games at Seattle and Las Vegas on June 23 and 25.

“It was just recommended that we don’t do it,” Thibault said. “I’m not making the final choice on this, so it was recommended that we don’t do it and that we get this one game [Wednesday at Atlanta] and we get another break with all-star break [next weekend] and then kind of be in a better position going down the stretch the last third of the season.”

Austin was back with the team and in the starting lineup after missing practice Wednesday following the death of her grandfather. The No. 3 pick in this year’s draft had 13 points, three rebounds, two assists and a blocked shot in 29 minutes.

The Sun and Mystics entered the day separated by one game in the standings. Head-to-head record is the first tiebreaker for playoff seeding and home-court advantage, so the Sun’s victory could carry significant weight at the end of the season.

“We missed wide-open threes. We missed layups at the rim. We turned it over,” Thibault said. “I say this all the time, and it’s not more complicated: If you have an open layup and you don’t make it, well, what can anybody else on your team or coaching staff do to fix that?”

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