After missing Game 3 of the WNBA Semifinal series with a bone bruise in her left knee, Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne returned for Sunday’s elimination game. Immediately, her presence was felt and the Mystics cruised to a 97-76 win over the Atlanta Dream to force a winner-take-all Game 5 on Tuesday.
Delle Donne finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Her presence on the court lifted the spirits of her teammates who were facing elimination after the former WNBA MVP hyperextended her knee in the fourth quarter of Game 2 — a game the Dream would rally to win 78-75. Washington gave a gallant effort in Game 3, but fell once again, putting them in Sunday’s do-or-die situation.
Delle Donne is BACK 🔥 pic.twitter.com/8Ea5xlDyp4
— NBC Sports Wizards (@NBCSWizards) September 2, 2018
Delle Donne’s presence also altered the Dream’s defense and blitz coverage of the Mystics guards. Ultimately, the Mystics forced Atlanta to pick their poison. As a result, guard Kristi Toliver finished with 22 points and seven assists, shooting 8-of-16 from the field and making 4-of-9 on threes. Toliver had made a combined four treys in the first three games of the series.
All five of the Mystics’ starters finished in double-digit scoring, including Natasha Cloud who bounced back from a dreaded 1-of-7 shooting in game 3, to shoot 5-of-10 from the field Sunday. She also shot 2-of-4 from three. Ariel Atkins finished with 19 points an LaToya Sanders had 10 points.
After shooting just 36 percent from the field Friday, Washington shot 50 percent from the field, including 12-of-26 from three. Atlanta had four players finish with 12 points, including leading scorer Tiffany Hayes who struggled with her shot (4-of-12).
Atlanta had a few surges to push back, including cutting the Mystics’ lead to 62-57 behind a 10-0 run in the third quarter. However, Washington pulled away against outscoring the Dream 35-19 the rest of the way.
Delle Donne and Toliver executed a perfect pick-n-roll to spark the Mystics getting back on track in the fourth quarter.
— Washington Mystics (@WashMystics) September 2, 2018
Toliver drained a step back jumper and Delle Donne followed up with her third three of the game. Then the rookie Atkins took over scoring eight consecutive points to cap a 15-2 run by Washington. That run put away any doubt of the outcome and ignited the Charles E. Smith Center on the campus of George Washington University as Delle Donne and Toliver went to the bench with victory stamped with 3:30 remaining.
Toliver described Delle Donne’s presence perfectly.
— WNBA (@WNBA) September 2, 2018
And just like that the doom feeling was lifted from the Mystics. With Delle Donne back and capable of playing remotely close to her all-WNBA level, the Mystics are once again a formidable group to be reckon with. Of course, anything can happen in decisive Game 5, but the forecast looks a lot sunnier for Washington with No. 11 back on the court.
The Mystics controlled Game 1 to march to victory. They controlled the flow of Game 2 when Delle Donne’s knee hyperextended as she drove to the lane with just over three minutes to play in Game 2. With her back the Mystics regained the control of the flow of the game and series Sunday. That is why Washington will confidently be ready for Tuesday’s Game 5 in Atlanta with a trip to the WNBA Finals on the line.
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