Whether it is being a role player because of her back injury or needing to be the go-to player in stretches of crunch-time, Elena Delle Donne just wants to win her first title.
Delle Donne and the Washington Mystics have the chance to do that Tuesday night in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals against the Connecticut Sun.
Delle Donne was a game-time decision Sunday because of a herniated disc in her back. She informed Mystics coach Mike Thibault she was good to go less than 90 minutes before tip-off and showed her worth in the 94-81 victory that gave Washington a 2-1 series lead and two chances to close out this series.
The two-time MVP took just six shots in 26 minutes but made five of them and finished with 13 points and six rebounds. Her last shot of the game was arguably the most important one as she drove into the lane and hit a runner to give the Mystics a 12-point lead with 3:04 to play after the Sun had used a 10-2 burst to close within 84-74.
“It was kind of one of the moments like, ‘Hey, I might give my back up and my body up on this one,’ but I feel like it was such a big moment to stop that run they’re making,” Delle Donne said. “And I knew I’ve got a phenomenal team. They’ve carried me this whole series, and they’re going to carry me the rest of the way.
“So just saw I might have a lane because I hadn’t driven – or done anything really other than space – so just tried to attack.”
Emma Meesseman also delivered a clutch performance with 21 points, accounting for more than half of the Mystics’ 37 bench points. Kristi Toliver contributed 20 points and 10 assists while Ariel Atkins, who was also a game-time decision with back spasms, was able to contribute 14 minutes.
“Emma’s going to continue to be huge for us. She’s been huge this entire playoffs,” Delle Donne said. “I say it all the time, Emma is one of the greatest in the world. Her play overseas, what she does for her national team, she’s ready for this moment. And you can tell she’s relishing in this moment.”
The tone of all three games has been set in the first quarter. Washington led by 15 points in Game 1 and by 13 after 10 minutes Sunday, while Connecticut was up 12 after the first quarter in its Game 2 victory. It has proven both perplexing and frustrating to Sun coach Curt Miller as he tries to reinforce the positives to his team.
“We talked briefly at the end of the game, all three games have been decided in the first quarter, essentially. There hasn’t been a close first quarter in this series yet,” Miller noted. “So we were always playing catch up in Game 1, playing catch up in Game 2. We expended a lot of energy.
“We got it back to four but we expended a lot of energy. And again, you’re always climbing out of a hole. Washington had to feel the same way in Game 2 after our good start and so first quarters have been the story, regardless of all their made threes and everything. First quarters have been a big part of the stories in this series so far.”
Another area for concern for Miller is Washington’s 3-point shooting. The Mystics were a scorching 59.3 percent from deep as they set a WNBA Finals record with 16 3-pointers. Toliver hit all four of her shots from beyond the arc while Delle Donne and Meesseman were both 3 of 4, showing the challenges of trying to stop one of the most versatile offensive teams in WNBA history.
“They had a really good night in their simple offense. It’s really, really simple, middle ball screen offense. And they put a great shooter on the backside,” Miller said, adding that Delle Donne was often also that shooter on the backside. “And you have to pick your poison. There’s only so many ways that you can defend it.”
If Connecticut can stave off elimination, a decisive Game 5 will be played in the nation’s capital Thursday.