WNBA 2014: Washington Mystics 92, L.A. Sparks 84, 3OT

June 1, 2014, Verizon Center, Washington, D.C. – At the end of the fourth quarter in the Washington Mystics’ triple-overtime win against the Los Angeles Sparks, the score was tied. At 59-59, the Sparks’ known advantages in length, quickness and experience had been clear. In the game, the Sparks had 22 steals and just 15 turnovers to the Mystics’ seven and 29 respectively. These stats resulted in 19 more field goal attempts for Los Angeles. The Sparks players have more cumulative years of experience in the WNBA, averaging 4.8 years per player versus 3.3 for the Mystics.

And yet, these “knowns” were still not enough to overcome the Mystics, who prevailed 92-84.  Part of this was due to fatigue, as Sparks coach Carol Ross almost exclusively played starters.  The bench played a total of 42 minutes, contributing just 10 points in four quarters.  On the other hand, Mystics coach Mike Thibault decided to test both the length and quickness of his team’s opponents by putting three bigs (Jelena Milovanovic, Emma Meesseman and Stefanie Dolson at 6’3″, 6’4″ and 6’5″ respectively) together with two quicker guards (Ivory Latta and Bria Hartley) in the lineup. The advantages of this group is that all five of them are not afraid to shoot, both guards can make threes, and Hartley has the quickness to penetrate for a layup.

On the other hand, the risk in this young and inexperienced lineup is that only Latta has more than one year of WNBA experience and three of the remaining four are rookies. In contrast to Los Angeles’ “knowns,” Washington faced a number of uncertainties, particularly whether they could play as a team throughout crucial overtime periods. Would they be able to defend against the tandem inside and outside scorers of Candace Parker and Nneka Ogwumike? Could they score under the pressure of an overtime period where each mistake could be the one that would cause the team to lose the game? Could they make crucial foul shots when there was a must-foul situation?

Coach Thibault decided that it was worth taking the risk despite all these unknowns. With the exception of substituting Tierra Ruffin-Pratt for a few minutes for defensive purposes, he trusted this decision enough to keep the some lineup for all three overtime periods.  The reward was a growing sense of confidence within the squad, as the players were able to improve their scoring in each subsequent overtime period, scoring 7, 12 and 14 points. Hartley, in particular, was able to score by penetrating to the basket and by shooting foul shots, contributing 10 points in the three overtimes. At 1:40 to go in the third overtime, behind by a score of 81-84, Hartley scored with a layup. Then, at 1:11, Latta made a three-point shot with Hartley assisting. Dolson subsequently blocked Ogwumike’s jump shot. With six made foul shots – two apiece from Hartley, Milovanovic, and Dolson – the game was over.

Of his young players, Thibault said after the game, “you got to get tested somewhere and they survived the test.” In other words, the Mystics’ unknowns are now becoming their strengths.

Photos: Washington Mystics 92, L.A. Sparks 84, 3OT
all photos by Kwai Chan / Meniscus Magazine