WASHINGTON — What was noticeable about Elena Delle Donne’s return to the lineup in the Washington Mystics’ crucial game in the WNBA semifinals was the bulky brace on her left knee as well as the improved play of the team given her presence on the court.
What was not noticeable about Delle Donne, at least according to one of her teammates, was the “S” underneath her jersey as she helped the Mystics move one step closer to making team history.
Delle Donne, who missed the Game 3 loss by the Mystics, scored 15 points and had 10 rebounds as Washington defeated the Atlanta Dream 97-76 to even the best-of-five series at two wins apiece.
Washington is looking to make their first-ever appearance in the WNBA Finals, but those chances took a hit when Delle Donne suffered a bone bruise in her left knee at the end of Game 2 in Atlanta. As Delle Donne sat out Game 3, Atlanta took advantage of her absence to come away with a 81-76 victory in Game 3.
There was no way Delle Donne, with the season on the line, would sit out today.
“I would have killed coach [Mike Thibault] if he didn’t let me play full out,” Delle Donne said. “He knows. I gave him the look and he knew I was fully ready to go and wanted to be in there as much as I could.”
Delle Donne ended up playing 34 minutes, and her teammates followed her lead as each Mystics starter scored in double figures. Kristi Toliver led the way with 22 points, with Ariel Atkins scoring 19 points, Natasha Cloud putting in 13 and LaToya Sanders chipping in with 10.
“Whether Delly (Delle Donne) is on crutches, it doesn’t matter. If she’s on the floor, they have to respect her and honor her,” Toliver said. “That changes everything for everyone.”
Six players scored in double figures for the Dream, though no player scored more than 12 points. Guard Tiffany Hayes, who was averaging 19 points per game in the series and was coming off scoring 23 points in Game 3, was held to 12 points on 4-of-12 shooting.
Atlanta, which ended the season winning 16 of their last 19 games, have not lost consecutive games since June. But with Delle Donne back in the lineup, Washington is hoping to buck Atlanta’s trend of bouncing back from losses and make that historic first Finals appearance.
“No one had to be superwoman, but we just needed to get a little bit smarter and get back to getting stops,” Delle Donne said at the end of the postgame press conference. Toliver, upon hearing that, had the perfect response as she was leaving the press conference room.
“But we got our superwoman back.”
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Sunday afternoon’s game, with all photos taken by DC-Area photographer Yusuf Abdullah. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 5 pictures in total.