By Demetrius Dillard/The Sports Pulse Contributor
WASHINGTON – The Washington Mystics entered their rematch against the Phoenix Mercury Friday night looking to redeem themselves from a one-point loss last Sunday.
But after the Mystics posted a vigorous first half, the Mercury responded with an offensive frenzy in the second half to sail to an 84-72 win.
Skylar Diggins-Smith finished with a game-high 24 points and six assists, Kia Vaughn scored 16, and Diana Taurasi and Alanna Smith scored 14 apiece to give Phoenix its second straight win over Washington.
The rematch took place after a league-wide two-day boycott in protest of racial injustice following the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as WNBA players stood in solidarity with their NBA counterparts.
The Mercury (8-7) shot 56.9% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. Phoenix was also perfect behind the free-throw line on their way to the big win.
In the third quarter, Diggins-Smith and Taurasi combined for 18 points (Washington scored 14 as a team in the quarter) to spark the second-half offensive surge.
“They (Taurasi and Diggins-Smith) are really good offensive players, but we had done a pretty good job on them earlier. I think [it’s] part us, part them,” Coach Mike Thibault said.
“Give them credit, but we got caught a step off. They were making shots; we’re not. Teams are shooting 50% against us right now. It’s hard.”
Injuries seem to continue to plague the Mystics. Myisha Hines-Allen played through an injured foot that she suffered during pre-game warm-ups. She recorded 14 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes on the floor Friday night.
In addition, Emma Meesseman is not 100 percent but was healthy enough to play, according to Thibault.
Rookie Stella Johnson “will be out quite a while” after suffering an injury right above her left ankle, and Thibault said he didn’t know if she will be able to return before the end of the season or not.
Kiara Leslie and Hines-Allen paced Washington in the opening quarter of action, and the team totaled four steals to take an early 19-16 lead. In the second quarter, Leilani Mitchell was big for the Mystics on the offensive end, powering them to a 41-33 lead at the break.
Hines-Allen and Mitchell led the way with a combined 19 points in the first half. Phoenix had only gotten to the free-throw line once in the first half and tallied 11 turnovers to Washington’s three.
Taurasi drilled a mid-range jump shot, Vaughn put in a jumper and Diggins connected on two consecutive 3-pointers to tie the game three minutes into the second half.
Both teams exchanged field goals as the score remained tied for the next few minutes until Taurasi made a 3-pointer, and Diggins-Smith and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough added long-range triples to put the Mercury on top 58-53 toward the end of the third.
Phoenix extended its lead and held a 62-55 advantage heading into the fourth, completing a 15-point turnaround. In the last 10 minutes of action, the Mercury more aggressively despite Washington’s comeback effort.
Their lead ballooned to 15 after a 13-3 scoring run to open the fourth quarter as they continued attacking the lane and in transition.
A 15-point lead turned into 17, then 19, then 21 on a Kia Vaughn 10-footer off a Diggins-Smith assist. By the time Phoenix was up 83-62 just inside four minutes on the game clock, it had the win sealed. Washington drops to 4-10 with the loss.
Mitchell scored a team-high 17, Tianna Hawkins came off the bench and poured in 13 points, and Leslie had 10 points and three assists, as the Mystics hope to rebound from a three-game losing streak when they play the Connecticut Sun Sunday at 4 p.m.