Shakira Austin powers Mystics past Mercury

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As she checked out of the game late in the fourth quarter Tuesday night, Shakira Austin strolled toward the bench as the crowd at Entertainment and Sports Arena erupted. For the first time since joining the Washington Mystics, the rookie had a moment completely to herself, and applause rained down amid a standing ovation.

Natasha Cloud took a few steps toward the stands behind the basket and waved her arms to keep the cheers coming as everyone in the building took a moment to appreciate what they had just witnessed.

Austin had 16 points and 10 rebounds as the Mystics avenged Sunday’s overtime loss to the Phoenix Mercury with an 83-65 victory Tuesday. The No. 3 draft pick led the Mystics in both categories and did it while battling former WNBA MVP — and ex-Mystics standout — Tina Charles for much of the night.

“It was dope,” Austin said of the moment. “I try not to get too excited about it. Enjoy the moment, but it’s really exciting. I just wanted to take on the challenge. [Alysha Clark] had mentioned it last game — just to step up to the plate. … And I really just wanted to be able to shut it down.”

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Austin walked into the postgame media session with two large bags of ice on her knees and proclaimed, “I’m tired!” She battled for 26 minutes and, at one point, had Charles so frustrated that she hacked the youngster after Austin forced another miss.

The most impressive moment of Austin’s night may have been when she caught the ball outside the three-point line, quickly turned and saw Charles squared up to defend. That’s not a typical area for the 6-foot-5 center to be handling the ball, but she didn’t look uncomfortable. Without hesitation, Austin took two dribbles to turn the corner on Charles and banked in a running half-hook.

The rookie took on a WNBA legend and wasn’t intimidated in the slightest.

She has no fear,” Coach Mike Thibault said. “She just doesn’t. We interviewed her for the draft, and she was looking forward to all these players to play against because they were people she had looked up to. … She’s tried to steal from parts of their games, and she wants to go test herself against them.”

Cloud added: “She’s a dog. She’s a dog. … She is going to have respect for who you are, but she don’t care at the end of the day. She knows who she is, too.”

The Mystics (10-6) used an 11-0 run early in the third quarter to take a 17-point lead and held off multiple rallies from there. Ariel Atkins finished with 13 points, Clark added 11, and Elizabeth Williams chipped in 10 off the bench as the Mystics found the answers two days after Thibault lamented the “missed opportunity” in their loss to Phoenix.

Diamond DeShields scored a game-high 21 points for the Mercury (5-9), and Charles ended up with 19 on 7-for-14 shooting.

Here’s what else to know about the Mystics’ win:

Last time out: Mystics lament a ‘wasted opportunity’ in an overtime loss to the Mercury

Elena Delle Donne was back in the Mystics’ starting lineup and said her recent absences were “nothing to freak out about.” She missed Wednesday’s win over Chicago, had a scheduled rest day as the Mystics beat Minnesota on Friday and was a last-minute scratch before Sunday’s loss. The official report has been lower back tightness.

“I needed like a little bit of a reset,” Delle Donne said. “Get back into the weight room, lock into some things. I’m feeling a lot better now. It’s an exploratory season. We knew there would be some different things that we’d be working through. It is what it is. Nothing to freak out about.”

The two-time MVP explained that before warmups against Chicago she could feel that her hips were “off”; the muscles started tensing up during the game, so it was time to “shut it down.” Over the past three years, Delle Donne has gotten very in tune with her body and can identify little things — such as a need to push off more from the inside of her foot.

Thibault said a decision hasn’t been made on whether Delle Donne will play Thursday at New York, but the original plan was to sit her and play her at home Sunday against Connecticut.

Cloud pushed her franchise record of consecutive games with five-plus assists to 18. That is the fifth-longest run in WNBA history. On Tuesday, she had a season-high 10 to go with six points. She said her shot is a bit off, so her goal is to put her teammates in a successful position.

“I’m just being me,” she said. “Everyone keeps talking about this record, but I don’t think about it. I don’t necessarily care about it. I’m just trying to be who I need to be every single night.”

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