A Comeback for the Ages

New York Yankee Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra once said “It ain't over till it’s over.”

His words rang true on Sunday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Staging a comeback of epic proportions, the Washington Mystics overcame a 22-point halftime deficit to knock off the Los Angeles Sparks 89-85, making yesterday’s win the largest second-half come-from-behind win in league history.

In life, there are times that everyone faces great adversity. How one responds to that adversity says a lot about one’s character. The same can be said for sports. A team goes through a lot together and things don’t always work out as planned. But, every now and then we are reminded why sports can be so rewarding.

The 2011 Mystics have certainly endured their share of adversity. For a team that saw so many new faces in camp this spring, it was to be expected that it may take some time for them to start gelling. They knew they would be without forward Monique Currie as she suffered a season-ending knee injury over the winter, but they have also played all season without their all-star guard Alana Beard, who suffered a foot injury at the end of training camp.

It has not been easy for the Mystics and a winless 5-game road trip was staring the team in the face. They battled and fought hard in the first four, but were ultimately unable to find a way to get a win. On top of that, the Sparks had yet to lose a game at home this season. But, that is why they play the games.

The Mystics got off to a shaky start Sunday night and were trying desperately to just keep the game within reach. They trailed 47-25 at the half and it would appear that the Mystics were on their way to another loss. This was the final day of a 12 day road swing and the Mystics were tired from a brutal trip. However, there was still one half of basketball to be played.

Crystal Langhorne and Matee Ajavon came out firing in the 2nd half and fueled the Mystics back into the game. The team clamped down on defense and held the Sparks to just 12 third quarter points.

“Our focus in the second half was to stop them from scoring,” said Langhorne.

A simple statement but executed to perfection down the stretch as the Mystics continued to chip into the Sparks lead. They brought themselves back to within five points with just less than seven minutes to play in the 4th quarter. But, the Sparks would once again build their lead back up to 10 and held a 70-60 lead with just three and a half minutes to play.

Once again, it looked like the same script for the Mystics, a hard fought effort that would fall just short of what was needed for a win. However, the Mystics showed great resiliency and continued to claw their way back. Langhorne would score or assist the next eight points for the Mystics and they found themselves down by two with just two and a half minutes to play. Ajavon then knocked down a jumper followed by a Marissa Coleman three to cap off a 13-0 Mystics run and gave the Mystics a 73-70 lead.

The Sparks then had to pull off a mini-comeback of their own, and they did, regaining the lead with just seconds remaining on the clock. The Mystics had the ball down by two with 24 seconds left in the game. They put the ball in the hands of one of their playmakers, Ajavon, and she came up with a huge play to keep hope alive. She got to the basket and was able to draw a foul and went to the line for two pressure-filled free throws. A 90% free throw shooter, she calmly sank them both and sent the game into overtime.

The Mystics came out and dominated the overtime session from the get go as they scored the first five points of the extra frame. A 22-point halftime deficit was a distant memory and the Mystics looked like they were the team who deserved to win. When the final whistle blew, the score read: Mystics 89 – Sparks 85. It was official. The largest second-half comeback in WNBA history had been accomplished.

“They have big hearts and have played through injuries, played through disappointment, played through a lot of things and have tremendous character and refused to give up. I'm very proud of them,” said Mystics Head Coach Trudi Lacey.

A team that had been both mentally and physically fatigued, they went out and put together a near perfect half of basketball as they rallied from 22 points down to pull off an upset of enormous magnitude. Games like this don’t happen very often, so it is important to recognize how great of a feat this actually was.

“I think the whole time we were confident. Our coaches were confident in us and we had faith as well,” said Ajavon after hitting the game tying free throws with 3.4 seconds left in regulation.

“We've been fighting all season and we've lost a lot of close games; this was our time so we finally closed out a game,” said Lacey.

There is still time for this team to make a run, and the Mystics are hopeful that Sunday’s historic victory will help catapult the team for the rest of the 2011 season.