Bill Laimbeer had turned over the coaching keys to Katie Smith in a no-stakes game for the Liberty. So the woman named in June as one of the 20 greatest and most influential players in the WNBA’s 20-year history took her seat by his side Tuesday night and took charge at the Garden.
The associate head coach watched Sugar Rodgers nail a jumper for the first points of the game — and Washington score the next 17 points.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Smith said of the view.
It didn’t get much prettier. Stefanie Dolson poured in 23 points, and the Mystics cruised past the Liberty, 75-62, in its regular-season home finale and second-to-last game overall. The Liberty has lost two straight and five of eight.
“We’re very inconsistent right now,” said Tina Charles, who had 22 points and 11 rebounds.
After the finale at Chicago Friday night, the Liberty (21-12) will get a bye and then face the lowest remaining seed from the first round on Sept. 24 in a win-or-season-over second-round game at the Garden of the new league format.
“If you ask a coach, a coach will say this format is awful,” Laimbeer said. “You can play an entire season and be very successful, and you play one game and you have bad calls or have a sprained ankle or you have somebody ill that can’t play, and, oops, you’re out.”
Smith was happy to be in on this night, even with 32.8 percent shooting by her team.
“It was just a really great experience, something that I can kind of replay in my head and think of things that maybe I would’ve done differently or things I liked,” Smith said. “ . . . At some point soon, I think being a head coach would be fine.”
Washington (13-19) needed to win and needed Phoenix to lose at Los Angeles Tuesday night to stay alive in the playoff race. The Liberty went on a 15-2 run to cut its 15-point deficit to 19-17 early in the second quarter.
But Ally Malott hit two three-pointers and Dolson and Tierra Ruffin-Pratt nailed one each to power a 14-4 burst, making it 34-21. When Ruffin-Pratt drove to make it 36-23, Smith called for time.
At halftime, it was 43-31 Mystics. By late in the third, they had created an 18-point cushion.
“The defense was amazing tonight,” Dolson said. “Offensively, we had a great flow, too.”
So now Charles will sit out at Chicago to rest. She likely will become the third player in WNBA history to win the titles for scoring (21.5) and rebounding (9.9) in the same season.
“It means a lot,” Charles said. “ . . . But to me, it’s all about trying to win a championship.”