Mystics 75, Liberty 74: Washington in control of East's No. 1 seed
If anyone wanted a preview of what the playoffs will look like in the WNBA's Eastern Conference they got one Friday night at Verizon Center in a dramatic, final-second finish between the Mystics and the New York Liberty.
Washington held on for a 75-74 victory that ended New York's 10-game winning streak and opened the door for the Mystics to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown.
Indiana's 75-61 loss to San Antonio on Friday night combined with Washington's victory created a three-way tie between the Mystics, Liberty and Fever all at 21-12. Because Washington holds the tiebreaker of better head-to-head record against both teams, it is the No. 1 team in the East heading into the final day of the WNBA regular season on Sunday.
The Mystics can clinch the Eastern Conference title with a win Sunday against the Atlanta Dream (19-14), who will finish fourth regardless of the outcome. Washington could drop to third however, if it lost to Atlanta and both New York and Indiana win their last games.
"This win is huge for us," said Matee Ajavon, who stripped the ball away from New York's Taj McWilliams-Franklin in the final seconds. "The Mystics as a team haven't been in this position, ever."
So how important is the home court advantage that would come with a top two seed? Washington is now 13-4 at Verizon Center and there's no denying that 13,109 fans screaming and standing at the end of Friday's contest helped the team outlast the Liberty.
"We play so well at home, it's the biggest boost for all of us. Tonight the crowd was great and it helped us all get through," said Lindsey Harding, whose basket with 8.8 seconds remaining proved to be the game-winner. "We want people to come have to face us here and take us on with that crowd behind us in the playoffs."
This was a close, physical (42 fouls) game as both squads fought for what they knew could go a long way in determining who won the Eastern Conference title and gained home court advantage in the first round.
"I think this showed playoff basketball," Cappie Pondexter said. "You could tell that both teams were fighting for something."
But the competitive tensions boiled over after the buzzer sounded. Members of both teams were involved in a fracas at center court during which Pondexter was pulled away twice while yelling back toward the group. When asked about the altercation afterward, Pondexter replied: "I don't know what you're talking about."
It's unknown if a punch was thrown, an action that would result in an immediate one-game suspension per WNBA rules regardless whether the blow made contact. WNBA officials did not make game referees available for comment afterward.
It will certainly be interesting to see if the league reviews the scrum and if it doles out any punishments, particularly with both teams facing important final contests on Sunday. (New York hosts Connecticut in both teams' season finale.)
A few random notes from today's game:
-The Liberty certainly key off shutting down Crystal Langhorne. The Mystics' stalwart forward wasn't able to take a single shot until 40 seconds remained in the first quarter. She finished with 13 points and seven rebounds regardless of New York's efforts though.
-For those wondering how Langhorne's handling not being named to the USA basketball pool: "Sure it's disappointing, but the committee has a job to do and they select whomever they believe is best for the team."
Something tells me her Mystics family isn't taking the news quite as well. In Washington's locker room before today's game a "USA Get Lang!" t-shirt was draped over a mirror with a pink pom-pom on top of it. Masking tape that had been added to the bottom of the shirt had "Or Russia?!?!" written on it. (Langhorne will play in Russia this offseason.) No one admitted to creating the mini-billboard.
-Although it doesn't apply fully to tonight's game, the Mystics are 13-0 when they hold their opponent to fewer than 70 points. They're 8-12 the rest of the time.
August 21, 2010; 12:52 AM ET
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