The New York Liberty beat the Washington Mystics 74-66 Friday night in what was Elena Delle Donne’s first game back from injury. Delle Donne had missed the past six games due to a torn ligament in her left thumb. She scored 15 points on 6-for-11 shooting, grabbed four rebounds and added four assists in 34 minutes.
The Liberty were led by veterans Tina Charles and Epiphanny Prince, who each scored 20 points. Shavonte Zellous had 18 points of her own, and Bria Hartley chipped in with 10. But it was defense that defined this game. The Liberty went into the fourth quarter up 61-60, and held the Mystics to six points in the final frame.
“We take pride in our defense,” said Charles. “Being aggressive and doing what we do out there.”
The Liberty shut down the Mystics by crowding Delle Donne, as well as centers Krystal Thomas and Emma Meesseman, and forcing Washington to shoot from the perimeter.
“They were throwing good double teams and we were making extra passes, we just weren’t able to hit,” Delle Donne told reporters. “They have great defense and that’s what they’re known for.”
The Mystics shot just 3-for-18 on 3-pointers, a lowly 16.7 percent.
“We really struggled,” said Mystics coach Mike Thibault. “We didn’t make a lot of outside shots. Their double teams were good. They made some weak shots in the fourth quarter that we didn’t make.”
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The Liberty have won seven straight games. At 19-12, they hold a one and a half game lead over the Mystics for the fourth seed in the playoffs. They are also just one game back of the Connecticut Sun for the third seed after the Sun fell to Chicago on Friday.
“This was a big win for us and was important in the stands,” said Zellous.
The fifth seed will have to play an additional one-game playoff against the eighth seed, whereas the fourth seed will earn a bye to the second-round.