The Washington Mystics are learning how to get by without All-Star Elena Delle Donne. They've already shown the ability to dominate the Indiana Fever without her.
The Mystics (15-10) host the Fever (9-18) Friday night having won the first two matchups by an average of 16 points. They also claimed victory in the previous game, downing the Diana Taurasi-led Phoenix Mercury 85-80 on Sunday to open a four-game homestand while playing their second consecutive game without Delle Donne (thumb surgery).
Kristi Toliver paced four double-digit scorers with 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting from the field including three 3-pointers. Tierra Ruffin-Pratt had 17, Emma Meesseman added 15 and Tianna Hawkins scored 10.
Washington, which was also without second-leading scorer Tayler Hill (knee surgery) and guard Natasha Cloud (foot), led 43-38 at halftime and fended off Phoenix in the closing minutes.
"I just told them, that's one of those guts wins," Mystics coach Mike Thibault said. "I'm looking down the bench and we have forty-something points in street clothes, and (Diana) Taurasi is doing all of her crazy stuff. Some of the calls weren't going our way, and we just kind of hung with it and figured out a way to win. Defensively, in the key moments of the fourth quarter we were good enough at the end."
The win separated the Mystics in the race for the fourth seed in the WNBA Playoff race. Washington is 1 1/2 games ahead of Phoenix for fourth. The top four teams receive a bye into the second round of the league playoffs.
"It feels great. To keep them behind us," Hawkins said. "Our work isn't done we have to keep going and keep winning games so we can have a great position."
Indiana has lost six of seven, including Tuesday's 81-76 loss at the New York Liberty. The setback came two days after a stunning 84-82 win over WNBA-leading Minnesota.
The Mystics won the first meeting 88-70 at home on June 11 and took the rematch 72-58 on the road on July 14. Washington controlled the second game despite Delle Donne playing only three minutes. The Fever trailed 27-11 after the first quarter and shot 27.3 percent from the field.
"We got off to a really slow start on both sides of the basketball," Fever coach Pokey Chatman said after the July loss. "We dribbled the ball off our feet, we took bad shots and we gave up too many easy shots."
Erica Wheeler hit plenty of shots against New York. She finished with a game-high 33 points thanks to sinking 7-of-11 from beyond the 3-point arc.. The 5-foot-7 guard is second on Indiana in scoring (11.5) behind Candice Dupree (14.6)
"She's super explosive in the full court," Briann January told ESPN about her starting backcourt partner. "You've got to pick her up and slow her down because once she gets a head of steam, she'll give a move, and you're 10 feet behind her."