Tina Charles
Mary Altaffer/AP Photo

Elena Delle Donne outdueled Tina Charles in a battle of WNBA legends, as the latter’s New York Liberty lost another one on the road.

A battle of WNBA superstars lived up to the hype at Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington D.C. on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, the rest of the game failed to do so, especially for the rest of the New York Liberty.

Charles’ 16 points weren’t enough to counter a double-double from Elena Delle Donne. The MVP candidate put up 22 points and 10 rebounds in a 101-72 victory for the Washington Mystics. It served as the penultimate away game of the season for the Liberty.

New York (9-20) kept pace with the league-leading Mystics (21-8) in the early portions of the game, trailing just 11-10 at the midway mark of the first quarter. But Washington quickly took over, with an energizer coming off the bench in the form of Emma Meesseman.

The Belgian forward did not play in the first meeting between the two teams but made up for lost time with 10 first-quarter points. Washington embarked on a 20-4 run to close out the frame, putting the Liberty in an early hole.

“We gave up 31 points in the first quarter,” Liberty head coach Katie Smith said. “Defensively, we didn’t execute the plan. One-on-one defense, rebounding, picking them up early, those types of things I don’t think we did well.”

The Liberty wound up winning the second quarter, cracking down on defense to lead 17-16. A 47-31 deficit awaited them going into the halftime locker room, but things were still relatively hopeful with Bria Hartley and Rebecca Allen’s shooting. Hartley wound up with 16 points to reach double-figures for the sixth time in her past seven games.

But familiar third quarter horrors took over to permanently shift momentum.

New York opened the second half by forcing two shot-clock violations from the Mystics, but things went south soon after. Delle Donne would get plenty of help as she made her MVP case, as each active Mystics recorded at least two points. Washington sank a dozen three-pointers en route to victory. Five came from the hands for Tianna Hawkins, accounting for her 15-point tally off the bench.

The Mystics outscored the Liberty 29-16 in the third quarter.

“They’re a really, really, really good basketball team and that’s a credit to them. They moved the ball very well,” Liberty guard Kia Nurse observed. “I think defensively we had a couple of breakdowns out of our game plan that didn’t go well. They shot the ball really well so kudos to them.”

Nurse would wind up making personal history in the midst of defeat, tallying a career-best six three-pointers. Her 24 points led the Liberty, as she reached at least 20 points for the second time in three games.

The Liberty loss allowed the Seattle Storm to clinch a WNBA playoff berth. Six of the eight spots have now been clinched. Washington leads the race for homecourt advantage throughout the postseason. They and Connecticut currently own the pair of double-bye weeks to open the tournament, granting automatic entry to the semifinal round.

Four of New York’s final five games will be held at home in White Plains. A rubber match with the Phoenix Mercury will open that stretch on Tuesday night (7:00 p.m. ET, YES/ESPN3). Phoenix currently holds the final WNBA playoff spot, leading ninth-place Indiana by four games entering Sunday’s action.

Follow Geoff Magliocchetti on TWITTER

NYY

NYM

NYG

NYJ

NYK

BKN

NYR

NYI

NJD

SJU