Without WNBA All-Star Elena Delle Donne, it would be tough for the Washington Mystics to handle another All-Star in Brittney Griner.
The 6-9 center for the Phoenix Mercury scored 24 points along with eight rebounds to lead her team to a 91-68 victory Wednesday before more than 15,370 screaming fans at Capital One Arena in northwest D.C.
Although Washington began this season playing at its new home in southeast D.C., thousands of children from various summer camps throughout the D.C. region watched the contest at the bigger Capital One Arena to cheer on Washington (9-5) for a game that started at 11:30 a.m.
“It’s just not normal for us to all of a sudden play at all times of the hour and bam, here’s a morning game,” said Mystics forward LaToya Sanders. “That’s not what most basketball players do. We’re not a fan of it, but we got to show up and do our job.”
Phoenix had a 49-44 lead at halftime, but outscored Washington 21-14 in the third quarter and keep a double-digit lead for the rest of the game.
The Mercury (7-6) shot 55 percent from the floor with four players scoring in double figures.
Defensively, Phoenix held Washington to only 46 percent shooting with only nine second chance points and just two on the fast-break. The Mercury also recorded seven steals, compared to Washington’s two.
Mystics head coach Mike Thibault called it a “wasted” opportunity to win for Tianna Hawkins, who scored a career-high 24 points on 11-of-17 shooting.
Thibault admitted Wednesday’s game wouldn’t be easy without Delle Donne and Emma Meesseman, who’s scheduled to return to the D.C. after playing in the European Championships and play Saturday at home against the Las Vegas Aces.
However, he said every team deals with injuries and a short bench during the season.
“We made mistakes … [such as] slow rotations, caught with your hands down on shooters, giving up drives on Griner,” he said. “I can accept a loss. I didn’t like the way we lost today, particularly in the second half. Just [a] lack of understanding of how you’re being played a little bit.”
It also marked the second straight loss for Washington and put them in second place in the WNBA after Las Vegas (10-5) won its fourth straight game Wednesday against the Indiana Fever.
Saturday’s game will give Washington a chance to regain first place in the league.
Delle Donne, who received the most votes with 20,337 from early returns in All-Star fan balloting last week, may also return after she suffered a nasal fracture in Sunday’s loss against the Los Angeles Sparks.
“It’s a game we have to bounce back from [and] learn from our mistakes,” Hawkins said. “We just have to continue to come together and play hard.”