Mystics beat Fever, ready for playoff meeting vs. Storm

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INDIANAPOLIS — Mike Thibault confirmed he didn’t send a gift basket to the Los Angeles Sparks as he sat fielding questions at Hinkle Fieldhouse. But a sly smile crept across his face Friday afternoon at the tank.

A short time later, Thibault’s Mystics beat the Indiana Fever, 82-70, to cap a day that started with learning they would have a lottery pick in the 2023 draft. They get the Sparks’ pick after Los Angeles was eliminated from playoff contention Thursday night.

“It’s not very often you wake up and know you’re a playoff team and a lottery team at the same time,” Thibault said. “It’s a good feeling because we’re playing for something and we also have a way to keep building.”

Thibault, also the Mystics’ general manager, got the coveted pick through a trade with Atlanta last season. He sent the No. 1 overall pick to the Dream for their No. 3 pick, Atlanta’s 2022 second-round pick and the option to trade a first-round pick in 2023. The Dream owned the Sparks’ first-round pick and included it in the deal. At the time, the Dream was not expected to be in contention for the postseason, while the Sparks appeared to have a playoff roster.

Then the season fell apart for the Sparks with the firing of coach and GM Derek Fisher and the acrimonious split with center Liz Cambage, who left after 25 games after signing as a free agent in the offseason. Sparks’ unraveling was the mystics’ gain.

“You never know how those things are going to work out, but we felt like we were going to be a playoff team,” Thibault said. “And even if LA had been a playoff team, a chance to even move up a few more picks in the draft was worth the gamble. And if it wasn’t that way, we could choose to keep our own. So it was a no-lose situation for us.

“But the fact that it turned out to be a lottery pick and that we might have good odds in the lottery, we’ll see. When you make these deals, you hope for the best and the best that’s worked out.”

Things to know about Friday’s game:

The Mystics (21-14) led almost wire-to-wire. They largely cruised to the 12-point victory with the Fever’s final lead at 6-5. Everyone who played scored, and Elena Delle Donne led the team with 24 points and seven rebounds. Elizabeth Williams scored 10 off the bench and Shakira Austin had 11 rebounds.

The team desperately wanted to get back on track losing the previous two games.

“It felt good just to come out here, be on the road and get a road win,” Delle Donne said. “It’s always important, but I still think we know we can take another step, especially in preparation for what’s next.

“But of course it’s always great to win away from home, but there’s always a bit more we can do. So excited to get out there again on Sunday.”

The regular season ends on Sunday with a home game against the Fever (5-30).

The Mystics, locked in a playoff tie with the Storm, will open the best-of-three series with two games in Seattle. The Storm’s win over Minnesota secured the No. 4 seed.

Delle Donne said every time the Mystics take the field these days, it’s preparation for the storm. The fever affords a good opportunity for that purpose; Indiana has former Seattle coach Gary Kloppenburg on staff to coach the defense.

Forward Myisha Hines-Allen (health and safety protocols) missed the game but is expected to be cleared before the playoffs. The self-described “Bench Mob” took hold with Williams finding his scoring, Shatori Walker-Kimbrough getting to the free throw line and being a nuisance on defense and Rui Machida (four assists) pushing the pace.

“Elena will tell you, championship teams, they need a bench,” Williams said. “It’s usually a team that can use all their pieces really well. So I know whenever the bench mob comes in, we try to bring a lot of energy, try to get rebounds and do little things like that. [I] also got some low post touches, just tried to move without the ball because it’s important to get to the playoffs.

“It’s going to take all of us.”

The Mystics end each shoot-around with a half-court shooting contest, with the winner taking home a bit of cash from everyone. That winner Friday morning was newcomer Jazmine Jones, who signed with the team Wednesday.

“That’s my first half-court shot of the year,” Jones said. “I said it’s crazy, it would be my first shoot-around with Washington. I do half a range shoot and I get $100 in a day, so I’m cool with that.”

Jones was out of the league after completing three seven-day contracts with the Connecticut Sun on July 13. She was previously on the Fever’s training camp roster before being waived on May 1 and joining the Suns on June 15.

The 6-foot guard and 2020 No. 12 overall pick spent that free time in Tallahassee working out and hoping for a call. The phone rang at 1 p.m. Tuesday, and she was on a plane to Washington shortly after 8 p.m. Jones averaged 10.8 points in 20 games as a rookie for the New York Liberty. She didn’t play on Friday.

“It was hard,” Jones said, “So I try to stay away from social media. Just stay grounded, stay humble. Keep my family around me. Don’t listen to the outside noise because it’s always not good.”

Hinkle Fieldhouse, home of Butler University, serves as a temporary home for the Fever. The team’s permanent arena, Gainbridge Fieldhouse, is undergoing a renovation. Built in 1928, Hinkle was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1987.

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