Holdsclaw's 26 pace Mystics in playoff win

Sting drops opener, 74-62

Stanley is Coach of Year

Pro Basketball

August 16, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - For the month of June, the Washington Mystics looked invincible, winning 11 of 15 games, seemingly setting the stage for a long WNBA playoff run. But the bottom dropped out in July and early August with nine Mystics losses in their last 12 games.

In their playoff opener last night, the Mystics reverted to their June play, running at will, hitting the boards and relying on their star, Chamique Holdsclaw, to beat the Charlotte Sting, 74-62, in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal at MCI Center before 14,117.

The Mystics shot 51 percent from the field, outrebounded Charlotte 34-29 and reversed fortunes from Tuesday, when they dropped a 10-point decision to the Sting on the road, thus losing home-court advantage in this round.

"I can't tell you how happy it makes me to see our players play the way we know we can," said Washington coach Marianne Stanley, who received WNBA Coach of the Year honors before the game.

"To know that in our first playoff opportunity with this particular group that they responded the way they did as a group was phenomenal," she said. "They deserve all the credit in the world. They weren't in awe of the situation. They were excited about having the opportunity to prove themselves once again. This is what we've done all year long."

Holdsclaw was superb, scoring a game-high 26 points, along with 13 rebounds, also a game-high, to get the Mystics started in the playoffs on a high.

"We've handled so much adversity this season and injuries, and I've had problems off the court with my family," said Holdsclaw, whose grandmother died just before the season.

"We had a slump, and I think a lot of people doubted us, and at times we doubted ourselves. But Coach stayed on us, and we're peaking at the right time. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves and it showed."

Game 2 in the best-of-three series will take place tomorrow afternoon in Charlotte with a third game, if needed, also in Charlotte on Monday. The Mystics lost home-court advantage in the regular season's final game, which they lost Tuesday in Charlotte.

The win was not only the first playoff win in the Mystics' five-year history, but also marked the first time a Washington professional basketball team had won a postseason game at home since the Washington Bullets beat the Detroit Pistons in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference first-round series on May 4, 1988, at the Capital Centre in Landover.

The Sting, the WNBA's leading three-point shooting team, tied a playoff record with seven treys in the first half but could only hit one in the second half, when the Mystics did a better job of fighting through screens and guarding Charlotte's long-distance shooters.

"We tried to forget about [losing that last regular-season] game, but it was such a bitter taste in our mouths," said forward Murriel Page, the last remaining original Mystic. "We went back to the hotel that night and watched the entire game as a team, and we saw that we didn't play Mystics basketball. We knew that we could do better and if we did, it was going to be a fight."

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