With the top seed in the upcoming playoffs already wrapped up, the Washington Mystics didn’t have much to play for in Sunday’s regular-season finale except pride.
Nevertheless, the Mystics (26-8) continued its home-court dominance and beat the Chicago Sky 100-86 before a sellout crowd at the Entertainment and Sports Arena.
Washington enters the playoffs having won six straight games and 12 of their past 13. In order for any team to advance in the semifinals Sept. 17, it must go through southeast D.C. against the hottest team in the league and its rowdy, red-clad fanbase.
“We have amazing fans,” said Emma Meesseman, who scored 11 points and dished out five assists Sunday. “They really are the sixth man on the court. They get us through tough moments and they keep cheering for us. They are going to be big for us in the playoffs.”
During the fourth quarter, Mystics point guard Natasha Cloud joined all 4,200 fans in “swag surfin'” as she swayed her body and arms from side to side while on the bench.
Cloud said she heard there’s a possibility a playoff game could be played in the bigger Capital One Arena in northwest D.C., a rumor she discounted.
“I will let our people know now that’s absolutely not happening,” she said. “The last few years, [Capital One Arena] has been great to us, but we’ve never had this atmosphere before. You are seeing the home-court advantage. This crowd is electric and this fanbase is electric.”
As for Sunday’s game, it could be a playoff preview. Washington won the head-to-head series 3-1 and scored at least 100 points against the Sky (20-14) twice. They are the top two teams in the league in average points per game.
Chicago ranks third in rebounding, but was out-rebounded Sunday 42-29.
With Washington beginning a nine-day layoff before their first playoff game, Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said he will schedule a game-like scrimmage later this week.
“We’re going to need some fine-tuning,” he said. “You can’t afford to just sit around and wait for the next opponent. We could see this team in the playoffs. We’ll see.”
One player who could provide a jolt for the Mystics is All-Star point guard Kristi Toliver, who has missed the past 11 games with an injured right knee. Thibault wouldn’t commit to when Toliver would practice and whether she would be ready for the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Thibault stressed the team’s main goal is to return to the WNBA Finals after last season’s defeat against the Seattle Storm.
One statistic he did praise was the team’s roughly 22 assists per game, which led the league. Cloud broke the team’s franchise record Friday against the Dallas Wings with her 184th assist on the season and recorded six more Sunday to give her a total of 190.
Washington topped the league in several categories this season, including:
• Average win margin of nearly 20 points per game.
• Six times scoring at least 100 points.
• A league-record 311 made 3-pointers.
• 87.5 percent from the free-throw line, another WNBA record.
Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne could be on the verge of her second league MVP award. She finished second in the league in scoring (19.4 points), tops in free-throw shooting (97 percent) and sixth in rebounds (eight per game). She scored 25 points and 12 rebounds Sunday.
Besides winning the franchise’s first championship, D.C. native Tianna Hawkins could become one of the rare professional athletes to win a title in their home city.
“I feel I’m in a great position right now,” said Hawkins, who scored 24 points Sunday coming off the bench. “I’m just like everyone else [on the team] trying to bring a championship to D.C.”