Mystics disappear after fiery start and fall to Mercury

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PHOENIX – Myisha Hines-Allen is typically one of the most jovial players on the Washington Mystics list, always with a smile and joking jokes. Thursday night drew another picture as she had to be physically restrained after a meeting with Phoenix Mercury striker Sophie Cunningham.

The confrontation reflected the heated nature of a competition in which Phoenix Mercury rose from a 15-point deficit in the first quarter to pull off an 80-75 victory in a physical and smart game that had a distinct playoff feel. The Mystics (15-11) return home to face the Minnesota Lynx on Sunday after sharing the two-game roadtrip that included a win in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

“I thought a few people I would not name names, just when all this started,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said before quitting. “There’s a story. There’s Phoenix players who understand that it’s part of getting under the skin of people in professional basketball. I thought we let it affect us a little bit tonight.”

The more Elena Delle Donne plays, the better Mystics’ offensive looks

Fans inside the Footprint Center roared late in the second quarter after Natasha Cloud had to pull Hines-Allen to the opposite end of the field. She had closed on a Cunningham three-point attempt and there was some contact but no whistle. Cunningham, who has a reputation around the league as annoying, fell to the floor and Hines-Allen stepped on her in a moment reminiscent of the infamous Allen Iverson-Ty Lue snapshot from the 2001 NBA Finals. The Mercury striker gave Hines-Allen a push from the ground, and the two stood face to face seconds later, expressing their displeasure. Both got technical errors.

Yes, we do not want to play into their jokes, ”said Hines-Allen. “But I don’t think that was what made us go downhill.”

Mystics was up by eight at the time in a game that already had a high physical level from both sides. Ariel Atkins went to the locker room and came back in the first quarter after taking a forearm from Diana Taurasi and hitting her head as she crashed against the hardwood. Mercury striker Diamond DeShields fell in the first quarter after contact, limped off the field and never returned. Mercury coach Vanessa Nygaard got a technical foul in the second quarter and Cloud was hit with an obvious 1 for pushing Skyler Diggins-Smith in the third quarter. Elena Delle Donne and Diggins-Smith were called for technical errors late in the fourth quarter.

All of those extracurriculars seemed to be throwing the Mystics off as their 15-point advantage in the first quarter shrank to just two (60-58) at the break.

The Mystics did not respond well to the chaos and fought to strike open shots at Phoenix’s zone. The second half was more of a testament to which team could keep the balance, and Phoenix simply played more games as Washington only had 30 points after the break.

Hines-Allen felt that the Mystics were hesitant towards the zone and did not play like themselves defensively after the first quarter.

“I think we could have been more aggressive,” Atkins said. “I think we allowed [the zone] to let us get a little lazy and deficient. We just did not have the same aggression.

“I do not think they came under the skin of us, to be honest with you. That’s just the way it is. That’s the way they play. Some calls should probably have been made. Some calls were probably not. That’s what it is. “

None of the teams played well offensively as the physical led to a choppy match full of errors and long pauses for video review. However, Mercury leaned on Taurasi and Diggins-Smith and played enough games in the fourth quarter to pull off a win.

Taurasi posted 29 points, seven rebounds and two assists, while Diggins-Smith counted 24 points, nine assists and five rebounds. Diggins-Smith hit a pull-up three-pointer with 42.7 seconds left to give Phoenix a 77-point seven-point cushion.

Delle Donne finished with 19 points and a season-high 12 rebounds to reach her second double-double of the season. Atkins contributed 14 points.

The Mystics hit just 14 of 51 attempts from the field after the first quarter, and Thibault was frustrated that Delle Donne did not get more touches in the fourth quarter.

It will be like the playoffs, ”said Thibault. “Physical and chippy and all that. We told our players early on, you can not play this game with them. It’s not what you want. Just play.

“If it was me, I would love to get some of those looks. We scored 40-something in the first half and 30 in the second. That’s how simple it is.”

Mercury drew attention to Brittney Griner’s illegal detention in Russia with several moments during the game dedicated to her charity and keeping her situation at the forefront of everyone’s thoughts.

I would be forgiving if I did not mention that it is 147 days since BG was wrongfully imprisoned, “said Nygaard before the match. “And it’s crazy for me. I remember 100. They made a big deal about 100. … One hundred and forty-seven days is a long time. We have to keep honoring BG.”

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