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Mystics lose to Seattle Storm and fall behind in WNBA standings

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Game on the line, playoff seeding at stake and a head-to-head tiebreaker about to be determined, the Washington Mystics put the ball in the hands of their two leaders. They came up empty both times.

With the chance to move up to No. 4 in the WNBA standings, which would put them in position to host a playoff series, the Mystics fell, 82-77, to the Seattle Storm. Both teams have six games remaining, and now the Storm (19-11) not only leads by a game but holds the tiebreaker between the teams.

The teams will play each other again Sunday at Entertainment and Sports Arena, with the Mystics (18-12) getting the opportunity to pull even. With Saturday’s win, the Storm clinched a playoff spot.

These are like the best games,” Mystics forward Elena Delle Donne said. “Obviously, when you lose, they’re not as fun. But they’re just fun, playoff-atmosphere type of games. Our crowd was so in it. These are the games we play for and live for.

“Unfortunately the outcome isn’t what we like to see, but these are great preparation games.”

Washington rallied from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to trail by one with 21 seconds left. Two-time MVP Delle Donne drove left against Ezi Magbegor and missed a runner from seven feet out. The Mystics were looking for a foul call that never came. Breanna Stewart hit a pair of free throws to put Seattle up 80-77 with 11.8 seconds remaining, and Washington had a chance to tie the game with a three. Natasha Cloud ended up with a wide-open 28-footer that rimmed out.

Delle Donne was the most dominant player on the floor and finished with 22 points on 50 percent shooting, five rebounds and three blocks. Ariel Atkins added 13 points on her 26th birthday de ella, and Shakira Austin finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds, the rookie’s third double-double. Cloud also had a double-double with 10 points and 11 assists.

Myisha Hines-Allen scored eight points to surpass 1,000 for her career.

Stewart (18 points), Jewell Loyd (17) and Tina Charles (16 with nine rebounds) did the heavy lifting for the Storm.

We can’t let one mistake domino-effect the rest of the next play and different plays after that,” Washington guard Shatori Walker-Kimbrough said. “I think that was one of our biggest things. We let one play affect the next.”

Here’s what else to know about the Mystics’ loss:

The Storm used a 20-5 run that spanned the third and fourth quarters to build its 15-point cushion and held on the rest of the way. The Mystics made just one field goal during that run. Six of Washington’s 14 turnovers came during that 7:35 stretch.

“We need to make some of the layouts we missed; we need to not turn it over,” Coach Mike Thibault said. “That had a playoff kind of atmosphere to it. A lot of physicality there, and we’re going to have to play through it. I hope that we take that you’ve got to value every possession. In a game like this, you can’t have [14] turnovers in a playoff game. … It comes down to little things.

“Get back on the horse, and let’s go. Can’t sit here and cry about it. Doesn’t do us any good.”

Thibault and assistant Eric Thibault received technical fouls at the same time during the stretch.

Saturday was the opener of a four-game stretch in which the Mystics face three of the top four teams in the standings. They will host the Las Vegas Aces (21-8) on Tuesday and travel to face the Chicago Sky (22-7) on Friday. That gives the Mystics the opportunity to move up in the standings. They then host the Los Angeles Sparks (12-16), who sit in the No. 7 playoff slot, a week from Sunday.

Charles made her third appearance at the Mystics’ home arena since she left the team in free agency during the offseason. The first two came with the Phoenix Mercury before the two parties agreed to a contract divorce. The former MVP then signed with the Storm as she continues to chase her first championship.

Seattle Coach Noelle Quinn said the team has tried to integrate Charles by using her skills while also fitting her into the established system.

“It’s trying to mesh her strengths in with where our deficiencies were lying,” Quinn said. “And that is on the offensive end, scoring. Obviously we know that she’s a bucket and she’s a prolific scorer within this league. Just trying our best to bridge that gap of how we play with making sure we put her in places for her to be successful.”

Washington held a pregame ceremony to say goodbye to retiring Storm players Sue Bird and Briann January. A video montage featured Mystics players and Thibault speaking about their memories of Bird — a 13-time all-star, four-time champion and five-time Olympic gold medalist. Both received a package of DC-related items.

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