The Washington Mystics didn’t play a meaningful game since the regular-season finale Sept. 8 at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in southeast D.C.
On Tuesday, the top-seeded team in the WNBA playoffs showed some defensive rust that allowed the Las Vegas Aces to shoot nearly 51 percent from the floor.
Las Vegas, which recorded the best defensive rating of 95 in the regular season, also out-rebounded Washington 42-30.
Washington still escaped with a 97-95 victory against the Law Vegas Aces to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five semifinals.
Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said the team played its worst defensive halves all season.
“Sometimes it’s better just to survive,” Thibault said. “We didn’t play our best basketball.”
Without being asked at a post-game press conference, Thibault had a few politically correct words in regards to the officiating. Washington shot a perfect 10-for-10 from the free-throw line; Las Vegas 18-of-22.
“The free throw difference was interesting,” he said. “I hope somehow it would even out during the course of the series.”
Mystics forward Emma Meesseman, who usually comes off the bench, led all scorers with 27 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
All-Star center Elena Delle Donne scored 24 points and made a key bucket to put Washington up 97-93 with about 33 seconds left in the fourth quarter. She also led the team with six assists.
Las Vegas point guard Kelsey Plum, who scored 16 points off the bench, quickly scored a layup to cut the deficit to 97-95.
Delle Donne missed a shot and Aces center Liz Cambage grabbed the rebound and tossed the ball to Plum, who fell to the floor after a desperation shot at the buzzer. Video replay showed she may have been bumped by Delle Donne, but the referee didn’t blow the whistle.
Aces head coach Bill Laimbeer stressed that wasn’t the reason the team lost.
However, he said during a post-game press conference he yelled at least five times to the nearest official for a timeout when Cambage pulled down the rebound with 4.5 seconds left.
“It didn’t cost us the game, but it cost us from getting a good shot,” he said.
A’ja Wilson led the Aces with 23 points, adding seven rebounds and three blocked shots. Cambage recorded a double-double with 19 points and 12 rebounds, but didn’t score in the third quarter after the Aces took a 57-50 lead into the halftime break.
In the second half, Washington quickly went on a 7-0 run to tie the game at 57.
All-Star guard Kristi Tolliver, who played her first game since Aug. 11 due to a bruised knee, scored eight points in nearly 23 minutes of action. She scored all her points in the second half.
“It’s the most I’ve played in five weeks,” she said. “In the second half, I just let basketball instincts take over. The first half was tough. I knew every shot wasn’t going to go in. I just had to keep shooting and just stay engaged.”
Tuesday marked the first home game since July 30 the Mystics won by less than 10 points. Toliver said it can help the team improve in Game 2 on Thursday in the District.
“It’s good to experience different ways to win,” she said. “You want to win and learn and not lose and learn. It’s been almost 10 days for the whole group. There can be some sloppiness. We know we be better in a lot of ways.”