The playoffs may be a whole new season, but as far at the Liberty and the Mystics are concerned, last night's matchup yielded the same old result.
The fourth-seeded Mystics again practiced their alchemy against the Liberty who, despite owning the best regular-season record in the lead, fell to Washington 86-83 in double overtime in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal. The teams play at Washington Sunday in the best-of-three series. The Mystics own a 4-1 record against the Liberty (23-12) this season.
Kara Lawson's driving layup with 1:43 left in the second OT gave the Mystics an 82-80 lead that they wouldn't relinquish, and free throws by Tayler Hill (one) and Ivory Latta (two) wrapped it up down the stretch.
"The little things that have been lurking in the background caught up to us -- second-chance points, we gave up too many, missed free throws, that was one of our great downfalls," coach Bill Laimbeer said. "We had an opportunity to win the game in regulation and in overtime and we missed some free throws and we didn't make the big shots."
One big shot in particular stood out.
Tina Charles looked to have the game won with four seconds in regulation. Her layup rattled around and dropped in for the potential game-winner but a review showed that Charles still had the ball in her hand just as the clock ticked off its final second. The decision sent the game to overtime with the score tied at 69 -- courtesy of an Ivory Latta three-pointer 20 seconds earlier that tied it for the Mystics.
"Coach drew up a great play he told me, 'Hey, we've got confidence in you," Latta said.
Epiphanny Prince's jumper with 1:21 left in overtime gave the Liberty a 75-72 lead, and Swin Cash made one of two free throws to increase the lead to four, but Hill made two free throws to draw the Mystics to within two with 39 seconds to go. Cash's jump ball violation with nine second left in the first overtime set the stage for Emma Meesseman on the subsequent possession -- her layup tied it at 76 and sent the game to a second OT.
The Liberty have never won a WNBA championship, haven't been to the playoffs since 2012, and haven't won a playoff game since 2011. Though the Mystics are seeded fourth, they owned the regular season series, 3-1.
The game began with the Liberty showing exactly how they got to have the best record in the NBA. They had a 10-point lead in the first quarter, product of an 11-0 run that seemed to portend further dominance. But the Mystics, who mustered a measly 23.1 percent from the floor in the first quarter, snapped out of their offensive stupor in the second quarter and proved to be as much of a menace in the layoffs as they were to the Liberty in the regular season.
They tied it at 27 with 4:37 left in the first half on Tierra Ruffin-Pratt's layup and took the lead on Meesseman's layup over Carolyn Swords.