Mystics hold off rallying Dream, 78-72

Washington, D.C. – The Atlanta Dream rallied from 18 behind in the second half, but it wasn’t quite enough to catch the Washington Mystics, who escaped with a 78-72 win Sunday.

Elena Delle Donne led the hosts with 23 points and a career-high 15 rebounds, including crucial free throws in the final minute of play.

The Mystics turned the ball over at midcourt with under a minute to go, which set up a Layshia Clarendon assist to Sancho Lyttle for a bucket with 43.7 seconds remaining. That gave the Dream their only lead, 72-71. Delle Donne was fouled on the next possession, and made all three free throws at the 34.5-second mark. She grabbed a defensive rebound and added two more free throws with 11.9 on the clock. Rookie Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, who made her first career start in the game, closed out the win from the free throw line with 4.1 seconds left.

Washington was ahead 41-32 at halftime, and began the third quarter on a 9-0 run. But a Tiffany Hayes-led run sawed into the margin. The Dream guard had 24 points.

Mystics coach Mike Thibault said he wasn’t surprised at Atlanta’s run, and he said his team had tired legs. But he credited their defense for the win.

“I thought we had a lot of great performances defensively at the end,” he said. “I know it won’t show up in the stats but Krystal [Thomas] and Elena’s [Delle Donne] length in the lane bothered them at times tonight too. Our whole deal was to try and take away their points in the paint but they got transition points against to get back in the game.”

The win was even more impressive for Washington, who were without starter Tayler Hill and reserves Natasha Cloud and Asia Taylor, due to injuries.

Atlanta coach Michael Cooper said that while he didn’t like the final score, he was impressed with his team’s fight in the second half.

“I was very satisfied with our effort,” Cooper said. “I didn’t like our effort at the beginning, as we came out and gave up some quick threes and gave up the lead. But for us to fight back, because last year this would have been a different story, but I loved the fact that we were able to fight back and stay in the game.”

Both teams shot about 35 percent on the night. The Mystics turned the ball over 14 times and the Dream, only three.

The win was the 275th of Thibault’s coaching career.

Washington travels to Texas to take on the Dallas Wings Tuesday, while Atlanta heads to New York Wednesday to take on the Liberty.