Mys­tics win again

MYS­TICS 67, LIB­ERTY 62

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY GENEWANG gene.wang@wash­ing­ton­post.com

Kara Law­son helps Wash­ing­ton move to 2-0 with big shots down the stretch.

Dur­ing a light-hearted mo­ment last week fol­low­ing prac­tice, Wash­ing­ton Mys­tics guard Kara Law­son was re­flect­ing on her dis­tin­guished WNBA ca­reer when she men­tioned how old her body feels given 12 years of jostling, hard land­ings and the gen­eral grind of com­pet­ing against the best play­ers in the world.

On Satur­day night in the Mys­tics’ home opener, the North­ern Vir­ginia na­tive hardly looked the part of a 34-year-old vet­eran when it mat­tered most, scor­ing seven of Wash­ing­ton’s fi­nal nine points, in­clud­ing an ac­ro­batic go-ahead jumper with 42 sec­onds left in a 67-62 victory over the New York Lib­erty.

The tri­umph on the sec­ond night of a back-to-back to open the sea­son pushed the Mys­tics to 2-0 for the first time since 2010. That sea­son, Wash­ing­ton fin­ished 22-12 for its best record in fran­chise his­tory. At that time, Law­son was play­ing for the Con­necti­cut Sun and then-coach Mike Thibault, who has led the Mys­tics to con­sec­u­tive play­off berths in his first two sea­sons in the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.

“We weren’t shoot­ing well all night,” Law­son said. “I had some re­ally qual­ity looks and hadn’t made them, so you get a lit­tle bit frus­trated be­cause you feel like you’re get­ting open shots, and you’re job is to knock them down. Late, I just felt like I could get a lit­tle closer, get into the paint a lit­tle bit, and made a cou­ple jump shots.”

Law­son (eight points, five re­bounds, four as­sists) had missed her first four field goal at­tempts be­fore sink­ing her fi­nal two, and for­ward Emma Meesse­man added a pair of foul shots with 25 sec­onds to play to all but seal the win in front of an an­nounced 7,400 at Ver­i­zon Cen­ter. Meesse­man scored six of her team-high 16 points in the fourth quar­ter.

For a sec­ond night in a row, Wash­ing­ton clamped down de­fen­sively to close out an op­po­nent. The Mys­tics yielded one field goal to New York over the fi­nal six min­utes, re­peat­ing a sim­i­lar ef­fort in Fri­day’s sea­son opener at Con­necti­cut that pre­served a 73-68 win at Mo­he­gan Sun Arena.

The short­handed Mys­tics were able to sur­vive this time de­spite shoot­ing 37 per­cent, in­clud­ing 4 for 18 (22 per­cent) from three­p­oint range, and get­ting out­re­bounded 41-33. Wash­ing­ton has been with­out start­ing cen­ter Kia Vaughn (hip flexor) and start­ing guard Bria Hart­ley (stress frac­ture in right foot) this sea­son, although both might be back in the lineup Fri­day night against the At­lanta Dream.

“I guess that’s our iden­tity for the mo­ment,” Thibault said of an­other de­fen­sive gem down the stretch. “We’ve got to start mak­ing some threes at some point. I thought maybe we had a lit­tle tired legs from the three-point line tonight from last night. You see on a back-to-back that a de­fen­sive ef­fort is go­ing to win.”

The Lib­erty moved in front early in the third quar­ter cour­tesy of an 8-2 run that in­cluded six con­sec­u­tive points from guard Tan­isha Wright. The 10-year vet­eran’s layup pro­vided New York with a 41-37 lead, match­ing the largest of the game to that point. The Mys­tics coun­tered with seven of the next nine points to re­claim the lead on 1 of 2 foul shots from Tayler Hill.

Meesse­man sank a jumper to trig­ger seven points in a row for the Mys­tics in the closing stages of the third quar­ter. Rookie guard Natasha Cloud made 1 of 2 from the free throw line and as­sisted on rookie for­ward Kayla Thorn­ton’s field goal be­fore Meesse­man’s two free throws with 53 sec­onds to go gave Wash­ing­ton a 51-45 ad­van­tage.

New York scored the next nine con­sec­u­tive points bridg­ing the third and fourth quar­ters un­til Mys­tics all-star point guard Ivory Latta (10 points) stopped the surge with a dif­fi­cult three-pointer to tie the score at 54 with 6 min­utes 7 sec­onds to play, set­ting up the back-and-forth fi­nal min­utes.

Cen­ter Tina Charles led the Lib­erty with a game-high 18 points and added eight re­bounds, and re­serve cen­ter Carolyn Swords chipped in 11 points on 5-for-5 shoot­ing. Wright (10 points) was the only other New York player to reach dou­ble fig­ures.

“We played great de­fense tonight,” said Mys­tics sec­ond-year cen­ter Ste­fanie Dol­son, who es­tab­lished ca­reer highs Fri­day with 18 points and 12 re­bounds. “We didn’t have a great shoot­ing night tonight, so we’re go­ing to keep work­ing on that ob­vi­ously and just work­ing on our chem­istry, mak­ing sure that we read each other, the whole team, and just play to­gether.”

RICHARD A. LIPSKI FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

TheMys­tics’ Kara Law­son, shoot­ing here against the Lib­erty’s Sugar Rodgers, got hot down the stretch.

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