The Washington Post

After a victory Sunday, the Mystics can clinch a playoff spot in Friday’s game at New York.

- BY KAREEM COPELAND Mystics at Liberty Friday, 7 p.m., Twitter

The Washington Mystics will not give up on this season.

They had plenty of opportunit­ies to roll over. Their players have missed 91 games because of injuries. Of late, they have been without Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-allen, two of their three top scorers. The plan was to make a second-half run at the postseason when two-time MVP Elena Delle Donne returned from a pair of back surgeries, but that lasted all of 21/ games before

2 nerve pain forced her to sit down again.

Somehow, despite losses in eight of 11 games entering Sunday’s visit to the Chicago Sky — which has dealt with injury issues of its own but already has clinched a playoff spot — Washington sat in the No. 8 and final playoff slot before tip-off. And after it, the Mystics improved their prospects with a 79-71 win over the Sky — and soon can clinch a playoff berth.

On Friday, Washington (12-18) visits the New York Liberty (11-19), whose late-season struggles have been a big help. A victory would give the Mystics a two-game lead and secure a playoff spot. The Los Angeles Sparks (11-19) could be in position to tie the Mystics even if they beat the Liberty, but Washington holds the tiebreaker with a 2-1 head-tohead record.

This scenario seemed unlikely after the Mystics lost eight of nine games around the Olympic break.

“It’s the character of their effort every day,” Coach Mike Thibault said. “The one thing I think we’ve been consistent about all year, despite the inconsiste­ncy of shots or anything else, is that we show up and play hard every day. And that’s got to be a starting point most days. They’ve been great about, when things have kind of gone wrong, to stick with it, even within the game today. They made their run. We couldn’t make shots. We didn’t get to the basket. We weren’t getting calls. We had all that, and yet we stayed with it, particular­ly on the defensive end.”

Without Delle Donne, HinesAllen (non-covid-19 illness) and Atkins (personal), the Mystics jumped to a 24-14 lead after the first quarter and led 47-37 at halftime. The lead reached 18 shortly after the break as Shatori Walker-kimbrough fired away to open the third quarter.

Chicago cut its deficit to 69- 66 with 3:55 left in the fourth, but Tina Charles eventually decided enough was enough — as she has all season.

After a few empty possession­s, the league’s leading scorer hit a hook shot to extend the Mystics’ lead. She buried a three-pointer from the left wing on the next offensive possession, answering one by Chicago. The next time down, Charles caught the ball in the post, looked to shoot and then kicked the ball out to Walker-kimbrough for a 20-foot jumper and a 76-71 lead with 1:18 remaining. Chicago never got any closer.

“Just [needed] to get the win. This win is huge for us,” Charles said. “. . . We didn’t want the turnout to be what it has been in the past where we’re up 15 to 20 and a team comes back and wins the game. We did so much good stuff, I didn’t want the game to end with an ‘L’. . . .

“When we man down, we man up. That’s the best way that I can say it.”

Charles put together another phenomenal performanc­e with 31 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Natasha Cloud did a bit of everything with 16 points, eight assists, six rebounds and some stout defense. Walker-kimbrough had 14 points and six steals. The Mystics’ defense, which has impressed in the past two games, held the Sky (15-15) to 41.8 percent shooting.

Despite the Mystics’ place in the standings, a postseason berth seemed unlikely just last week. But for the second straight year, the Mystics have a chance to put together a late-season run to the postseason despite some ugly play beforehand.

“We’re fighting for a playoff bid,” Walker-kimbrough said. “And we’re not trying to watch other games and hope that this team loses. We want to do it ourselves. We want to be able to get in ourselves. And when we do get in, we’re going to be prepared. So these are all preparatio­n games. These are all, feels like, life-or-death games.”

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