CHARLOTTE, N.C. - This winning thing is so new to the Washington Mystics that when the horn sounded at the Charlotte Coliseum yesterday and they had won their WNBA Eastern Conference semifinal over the Charlotte Sting, the Mystics didn't know exactly how to celebrate.
Who could blame them? A week ago, the Mystics, in the middle of a slump of nine losses in 11 games, looked like a team that was going to get bounced from the playoffs, if they made it in at all.
Instead Washington, after a 62-59 win over the Sting, earned a two-game sweep of the conference semifinal, completed the franchise's first-ever playoff series win.
"A lot of people on the outside would be surprised, but we're not," said guard Stacey Dales-Schuman. "We knew we could do this. Everybody was concerned about the Mystics, and why the drop-off. If you had come to our practices, you would have seen that there was never an air of just complete abandon of this game. We knew that we would come back and regain ourselves, and we did. The playoffs is a different season, and we're enjoying it."
The Mystics exorcised the demons of five years of franchise futility with a stirring comeback win over the Sting, claiming a berth in Thursday's Eastern finals. If the Indiana Fever defeats the New York Liberty in their semifinal, the Mystics would open the Eastern series in Indianapolis, but would have home-court advantage.
If the Liberty, which trails the series, 1-0, heading into today's second game in New York, wins that series, then the Mystics would play host to Game 1 before going to New York next weekend.
The Sting made things miserable yesterday for star forward Chamique Holdsclaw, who had 15 points on 6-for-16 shooting, after 26 points in Game 1, but Washington guard Coco Miller filled the void with 21 points.
Miller, who received the league's Most Improved Player award before Game 1 on Thursday, scored Washington's last seven points, including a three-pointer with three minutes to go to give the Mystics the lead, and 12 of the team's final 14 points all in the last 7:30.
"At the end there, I saw the shots," said Miller, a second-year guard from Georgia, whose identical twin sister, Kelly, plays for Charlotte. "I had good looks at the basket, and I didn't really think twice about taking it. I just took it. You can second-guess yourself and you can start missing them. I just had the confidence to go up there and shoot them and I made them so I am happy."
After the Mystics jumped out to an 11-2 run, the Sting, the defending Eastern champion, cloaked Holdsclaw and center Vicky Bullett in a zone, daring Washington to find pockets in the zone for shots.
Enter Miller, who was especially effective from the baseline, the soft spot in the 2-1-2 zone.
"As Coco said, our cuts were hard and aggressive and she got in a rhythm," said Washington coach Marianne Stanley. "We kept putting shooters out there seeing who would get that feel, and it ended up being Coco. The bottom line is we passed the ball well. We shared it, and we weren't afraid to take the big shot. We made enough of them to win."
The Mystics also played well defensively, holding Charlotte guard Andrea Stinson, who had 14 points in the first half, scoreless in the second. Washington also did a great job on Allison Feaster, the WNBA's leading three-point shooter in the regular season, holding her scoreless.