The Washington Post

Charles helps keep postseason hopes alive



The Washington Mystics had grown accustomed to turning to Tina Charles to carry them in the first half of the season. With the team missing multiple starters, Charles shouldered the load, leading the WNBA in scoring.

Then came a hip injury and a four-game absence. Friday night, in an 82-74 win over the Atlanta Dream at Entertainm­ent and Sports Arena, Charles returned to form, scoring 26 points to go with 16 rebounds and putting the Mystics into a tie with the New York Liberty for the league’s eighth and final playoff spot with three games remaining.

Charles’s work over the second and third quarters put the Mystics (11-18) in control. She scored 11 points during a 14-2 second-quarter run to give Washington a 38-29 lead. After Atlanta (7-22) cut the margin to 40-34 at halftime, she opened the third quarter with six straight points and eight during a 12-2 run that gave the Mystics a

52-36 lead, effectivel­y putting away the Dream.

“I thought I played very poor,” Charles said. “I have high standards for myself and how I come out and play and trying to be efficient the older I get. I just missed some shots that I should have made that could’ve made the game more easier for us. Gave Atlanta a little bit of life.

“Having teammates like Shavonte Zellous, who knows me and knows to get into me, definitely encouraged me to just keep going out there and keep playing my game and to be more aggressive.”

Charles also had a career milestone as she passed Rebekkah Brunson to become the No. 2 rebounder in WNBA history behind Sylvia Fowles. She received a standing ovation when the accomplish­ment was announced. Charles waved and pointed to her former University of Connecticu­t teammate Kalana Greene, whom Charles called her best friend.

“It means everything,” Charles said. “Especially Rebekkah Brunson, it’s very unfortunat­e she was left off that Top 25 [players in WNBA history]. Rebekkah Brunson is one of the dominant players. Coming out of the Big East and knowing what she represente­d there, she was someone I looked up to.

“She set the tone for rebounding. So to go past Rebekkah Brunson, it’s more so about her and how she set the tone to me.”

Theresa Plaisance scored 14 points off the bench for the Mystics, and Natasha Cloud added 13 points, six assists and four steals. Every Washington player that stepped on the floor scored.

Courtney Williams paced the Dream with 23 points, Monique Billings had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and Tiffany Hayes finished with 13 points.

The Mystics have struggled mightily on defense recently, and the 74 points were the fewest Washington allowed since a 78- 68 win over the Sparks on Aug. 24.

“I thought we did a really, really good job defensivel­y,” Coach Mike Thibault said. “Even [ Williams], she had to work to get them. She had to shoot it over a hand in their face. . . . Billings got most of hers early and not a lot late.”

Thibault singled out the defense of Cloud and guard Leilani Mitchell.

“Obviously, [Cloud] did her usual getting up into Tiffany Hayes. And I thought our other guards, particular­ly Leilani at the start, made Aari Mcdonald work.”

The season-long trend of playing shorthande­d continued for the Mystics. They were without Elena Delle Donne (back), Myisha Hines-allen (non-covid illness) and Ariel Atkins (personal reasons). Delle Donne is now dealing with a nerve issue after getting banged up in her second game back from a pair of back surgeries that kept her out the better part of two years.

Hines-allen remains out with an illness that doctors have yet to diagnose. Thibault said she’s doing better but is fatigued and not ready to return to the court.

All three are expected to miss Sunday’s game at Chicago.

Things weren’t much better for the Dream. It was without Odyssey Sims (personal reasons), Crystal Bradford (foot), Tianna Hawkins (foot) and Cheyenne Parker (pregnancy).

“Tonight was big for us,” Cloud said. “We needed this. We needed the momentum. We needed the confidence. We needed this game. We are very aware of where we are in the standings. We’re very aware that we’re fighting for our lives to get in the playoffs. I’m really proud of this group with the resiliency of being able to bounce back from a really bad loss in Seattle.

“Through all the injuries, through all the adversity, to come out tonight and get a good feeling win was huge for us.”

 ?? SCOTT TAETSCH FOR THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Tina Charles, who finished with 26 points and 16 boards Friday night, vaulted to second in WNBA history with 3,364 career rebounds.
SCOTT TAETSCH FOR THE WASHINGTON POST Tina Charles, who finished with 26 points and 16 boards Friday night, vaulted to second in WNBA history with 3,364 career rebounds.

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