Leilani Mitchell of the Washington Mystics
Leilani Mitchell. Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images.

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In a post-game interview on Tuesday night, ESPN reporter Holly Rowe asked Phoenix Mercury guard Shey Peddy how many game-winning shots she has hit in her career. Peddy, who, at 30, was a WNBA rookie with the Washington Mystics last season, and originally went to the WNBA bubble in Bradenton, Florida, for the Mystics, responded with a smile.

“Never,” Peddy said. “That was the first one.”

She had just hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to help the Mercury beat the defending WNBA champion Mystics, 85-84, to eliminate her old team from the first round of the playoffs. Peddy wasn’t supposed to be here. Not with the Phoenix Mercury, at least. Mystics general manager and coach Mike Thibault invited Peddy to join Washington in the bubble for her leadership after she played 15 games for the Mystics last season and also spent time as a coaching and video intern.

Peddy told Rowe that she wouldn’t even be in the bubble if it weren’t for Thibault. But the coach was in no mood to celebrate his former player’s big shot.

“I don’t like to lose,” Thibault said. “I would’ve liked to have seen her make any other shot against anybody else, but not against us, because we want to win. We wanted to move on.”

The Mystics waived Peddy on Aug. 17 in order to open up roster space to sign younger players, and Thibault intended to re-sign Peddy after she cleared waivers. But two days later, the Mercury signed Peddy to a seven-day contract. One of the players Washington signed, Stella Johnson, would end up getting injured in late August and did not return to the court.

Thibault credited Peddy for making the most of her opportunities with Phoenix but called it “an interesting situation.”

“We told her we were going to re-sign her,” he said. “She agreed to it, and then changed her mind and decided to sign with Phoenix. I guess it’s worked out to her. We would’ve liked her to stay. She knew that her minutes might be a little different. And truth be told, when she went to Phoenix, she really wasn’t going to play much until Bria Hartley got hurt, but to her credit, she stepped up when they needed her, and she’s helped her team over the last two weeks. We made that choice initially just because we felt that for going forward for our team in the future, we needed to see some of the young players … but [Peddy has] been a good pro and she was a big part of what we did. I’m glad she got a chance to win a ring with us last year.” 

At the start of the season, the Mystics appeared ready to go deep into the playoffs, but with four likely starters—Elena Delle Donne, Natasha Cloud, Tina Charles, and LaToya Sanders—missing from the bubble due to health reasons or, in Cloud’s case, to focus on social justice activism, repeating was never going to be easy.

Washington finished the season with a 9-13 record and earned the eighth and final playoff spot. Without its regular stars, Ariel Atkins and Myisha Hines-Allen shone and Hines-Allen was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for September, averaging 19.7 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 3.0 assists per game.

Players like guard Leilani Mitchell, who scored a game-high 25 points against the Mercury, got to play extended minutes as a result of the depleted roster, and the team got to see what the young core could do.

“The experience our key players got this summer will carry over,” Thibault said. “You put that core group that we have that’s not with us back with this group [and] we’re going to be one of the favorites next year. I don’t think anyone considered us a playoff team, certainly not a couple weeks ago, but we showed some toughness with the core group that was out there and those guys will be a big part of what we do in the future.”

Tuesday’s game began with the Mystics winning the tip-off and then intentionally taking a 24-second shot clock violation. During that time, Rowe spoke about the importance of completing the U.S. Census. She said that Atkins had reached out her the day before to give her the talking points that the players wanted viewers to know.

Throughout the season, Atkins and the Mystics have been leaders in the fight for social and racial justice, demanding justice for Breonna Taylor and using their media availability to emphasize the importance of voting.

“One thing I’ve really learned is that we are heard. People do hear us when we speak,” Atkins told reporters after the game.

The Mystics started off hot against Phoenix, taking a 46-35 lead into halftime despite Hines-Allen being in foul trouble. Each time the Mercury would go on a run, the Mystics were able to answer and for the most part held the duo of Diana Taurasi and Skylar Diggins-Smith in check.

Phoenix didn’t take its first lead until 4 minutes and 56 seconds were left in the game. The Mystics led 84-82 with only 5.8 seconds remaining after Kiara Leslie, Washington’s first-round draft pick from 2019, grabbed a crucial offensive rebound and Mitchell hit one of two free throws.

On the final possession, the team prioritized guarding Taurasi and Diggins-Smith, who combined for 47 points, but Diggins-Smith found an open Peddy in the corner. Peddy pump faked as Mitchell flew by her and hit the game winner just as the clock expired.

“It’s a tough one to swallow,” Mitchell said. “Obviously, we played pretty well for the most part, and I thought we deserved to win. We came up with some big plays down the end … It’s tough. I guess you just got to put the season into perspective, and all the growth that we went through. A lot of players really grew up this season, and I think we’ll be better for it next year.”