WASHINGTON – Katie Smith's 3-pointer with 43.5 seconds left gave the Washington Mystics their first lead since the first quarter and helped them earn a 61-58 win over the Minnesota Lynx on Friday night.
Lindsey Harding led the Mystics (18-12) with 15 points and Smith added 11 points. Crystal Langhorne finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds.
The Mystics' win helped them move into third place in the Eastern Conference despite committing 23 turnovers and shooting 36.1 percent from the field.
They had help from the Lynx, who scored only 18 points and shot 20.5 percent from the floor in the second half.
"It was a really ugly game," Langhorne said. "I thought it was our ugliest win of the season. It ended up being beautiful because we won."
With the win, the Mystics improved to 11-4 at home, swept the season series from the Lynx and tied a franchise mark for most wins in a season. They also moved a half game ahead of the Atlanta Dream and stayed within a half game of second place New York.
"They are battling for their lives, we are still trying to get ourselves in," Smith said. "This is the way it's going to be I think throughout the rest of the season, but also when the playoffs arrive. Nip and tuck."
Lindsay Whalen and Monica Wright scored 13 points for the Lynx (11-19), who fell into a tie with the idle Los Angeles Sparks for the final Western Conference spot.
They lost Thursday on a buzzer-beater against the Sparks, who hold the tiebreaker, having won three matchups this season.
Washington made its first five shots of the second half and went on a 13-4 run to pull within 44-42.
Despite the Lynx's struggles on offense — they had a 1 for 21 stretch bridging the third and fourth quarters — the Mystics didn't get over the hump until a wide-open Smith made a shot from the left wing, her third 3-pointer of the game.
"Everybody knows who Katie Smith is," Langhorne said of the three-time Olympian and 2008 WNBA finals MVP. "She hits big shots and did it again tonight."
After the Lynx missed two shots, Langhorne made two free throws with 15.7 seconds left, but then missed a pair 7 seconds later.
Whalen, who finished the first half in style as she banked in a running double-clutch 3-pointer at the buzzer, had a similar look from the top of the key in the closing seconds. This time it went in and out.
"It was about the same shot," said Whalen, who was 0 for 5 and failed to score in the second half. "Probably should have tried to bank it like the first half and maybe I would have got lucky and made the bank two times today."
Strong defense helped the Lynx take a 40-29 halftime lead. They forced 16 turnovers in the opening half, but couldn't sustain it.
"We had a hard time scoring and didn't get the job done," said Whalen, who said the Mystics' decision to switch to a zone defense was a factor in their struggles. "We weren't able to hit outside shots ... (the zone) worked for them and ended up being a big difference in the game."
The Mystics were able to tough out the win. Now they can build on the experience to help them in their final four regular-season games, starting on Sunday with the Seattle Storm, the best team in the league.
"I think we had problems in the past where we'd be down, catch up, and then we'd just ran out of gas," Harding said. "This game, I know it's given me confidence (that) if we are down, just to keep grinding it out one play at a time and that we can win."