Mystics ousted by Mercury on Shey Peddy’s buzzer-beater

Officials took a second look at Peddy’s three-pointer, but it clearly left her hands before the game clock turned to triple zeros.

“It’s the best feeling I’ve felt, probably ever,” Peddy said. “That was a dream-come-true shot right there. My first ever game-winning shot.”

The second-year guard was on the 2019 Mystics roster early, was cut and took a spot on the coaching staff as an intern and then came back to play toward then end of the season. General Manager and Coach Mike Thibault brought her back to the roster in 2020, but a decision had to be made midseason. Washington was struggling and Thibault was thinking about the future, so he signed rookies Sug Sutton and Stella Johnson and released Peddy. Both parties agreed to reunite after she cleared waivers, but Peddy changed her mind and decided to sign with Phoenix.

“It’s a bittersweet moment,” Peddy said. “I love and keep in contact with all the players. They’re like my sisters. … For me to hit that shot against them, it’s like a fairy-tale moment.”

The No. 8 seed Mystics, the defending WNBA champions, looked poised for a first-round upset, executing on offense and defense. They entered the fourth quarter with a 70-59 lead behind strong play from Leilani Mitchell (25 points) and Emma Meesseman (18).

But the Mercury’s high-scoring backcourt of Diana Taurasi and Diggins-Smith was just getting warmed up. Taurasi finished with 23 points and six assists, while Diggins Smith added 24 points, six rebounds and five assists. Peddy and Kia Vaughn added 12 apiece for No. 5 seed Phoenix, which advances to play No. 4 seed Minnesota (14-8).

The Mystics, playing without four players expected to have key roles before the novel coronavirus pandemic hit, finish the bubble campaign 9-14 including the playoff loss.

“It’s so hard,” Meesseman said. “We had a great run at the end of the season. … It’s just hard. Sometimes during the season we were thinking, ‘Ok, we’re not going to make the playoffs.’ Then you get to this point where you can actually go to the next round, we were feeling it during the game that we deserved to go to the next round. And then it ends in this way. It’s going to be a game that sticks with us for a long time. This feeling, it’s not what you want.”

The final minute packed a punch, even if the final blow landed in the Mystics’ gut. Mitchell hit a three-pointer with 57.1 seconds left to pull the Mystics within 82-81. Meesseman then stepped in front of a pass from Diggins-Smith and converted a fast break layup to give Washington an 83-82 lead with 38.8 seconds remaining.

The score stayed there until Kiara Leslie collected a crucial rebound for Washington with under 10 seconds left and found Mitchell, who was fouled by Peddy.

Mitchell hit 1 of 2 free throws with 5.8 seconds left, leaving Phoenix enough time to draw up one final play, which eventually ended with Diggins-Smith finding Peddy in the corner. She pump-faked and let a defender fly by before rising up and knocking down the game-winner.

Peddy simply turned and put both arms in the air as the horn sounded. Even her former Mystics teammates came over to give congratulations.

The Mystics took a 46-35 lead into halftime with an offense humming along from the outset. Five players scored the first five baskets, and Mitchell’s buzzer-beating three-pointer gave Washington a 25-16 lead after the first quarter.

The high-scoring Mercury responded with a 12-3 run to start the second quarter and tie things at 28-28, but Washington closed on a 16-7 run including back-to-back triples by Mitchell to push the lead back to double figures.

Washington played most of the first half without Myisha Hines-Allen (11 points, nine rebounds) after she picked up three quick fouls. The reigning Eastern Conference player of the month and player of the week was extremely active early with five quick rebounds and was playing good defense, but the fouls forced Coach and General Manager Mike Thibault to sit her down.

The Mystics’ defense helped force the Mercury into shooting just 32 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from behind the arc. This from a team that finished the regular season in the top five in scoring and three-pointers made.

Taurasi awakened from her slumber in the third quarter with 13 points, including three three-pointers, but every time Phoenix scored, Washington seemed to have an answer.

Then came the fourth quarter, when the Mercury used a 17-0 fourth-quarter run to take a 78-73 lead. The Mystics still had a few answers left, but not for Peddy’s final punch from the corner.

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