The Mystics expected to get a boost Thursday night from their home crowd inside a smaller – but louder – Charles E. Smith Center on the campus of George Washington University. They got every ounce of energy they needed as Washington routed the 2017 WNBA finalist Sparks in Round 2, 96-64. With the win, Washington advances to the league semifinals to take on the Atlanta Dream on Sunday in Atlanta.
A balanced, dominant effort was the Mystics’ ticket to the semis on Thursday, with six reaching double figures led by MVP candidate Elena Delle Donne’s 19 points and 12 rebounds. Natasha Cloud and Kristi Toliver shared floor general duties and combined for 24 points and 16 assists, while Ariel Atkins and Latoya Sanders chipped in 14 points apiece. Tianna Hawkins rounded out the 10-plus club with 10 points.
High tempo was a focus for Washington early and often, and it wore on Los Angeles, which showed some rust after having played Tuesday and traveled. The Mystics shot a red-hot 56.9 percent from the field (39.1 from 3-point range) on the night, while the Sparks mustered just 34.3 percent shooting (27.3 from 3-point range). Candace Parker led L.A. with 16 points and eight rebounds, but got little help with no other Sparks eclipsing 10 points
After an 8-2 run for Sparks early, the Mystics found their rhythm with a 15-5 run and ended the first quarter up 27-16 on the wings of Delle Donne’s eight points in the opening frame.
Washington took that momentum into the second quarter, outscoring L.A. 23-13. Tianna Hawkins led the way in the second, scoring eight points that included a pair of 3-pointers. In the half, the Mystics hit five 3-pointers to the Sparks’ 1 to create a 50-29 cushion heading into the break.
The Sparks shot just 33 percent from the field in the first half, making it hard to keep up with the Mystics’ torrid 52.9 percent shooting performance at intermission. Washington’s tone-setting first half all but sealed the deal, as Los Angeles couldn’t shave its deficit to any fewer than 18 points in the second half.
Much like Los Angeles heading into Thursday’s game, the Mystics won’t have much time to prepare for a best-of-5 Semifinal series with the Dream. Tip-off for Game 1 Sunday in Atlanta is set for 3:00 p.m.