Delle Donne provides emotional lift for the Mystics
By DOUG FEINBERG
Elena Delle Donne spent the last five days fighting a back injury and doing everything she could to play in the pivotal Game 3 of the WNBA Finals. She is not about to miss Game 4.
The league MVP and the Washington Mystics are one win away from the first title in franchise history after an 84-71 victory on Sunday.
"I'm going," she said Monday. "I'm feeling OK. I'm just trying to do all the treatment I can today. It's definitely maddening. But I know my teammates have my back so that kind of gets me calm."
Delle Donne, who has been snakebitten by injuries and illnesses throughout her career, hadn't been on the court since leaving Game 2 on Tuesday after playing just three minutes. An MRI revealed that she had a small herniated disk that is pinching a nerve in her back.
The 6-foot-5 wing played 26 minutes on Sunday, scoring 13 points. She hit her first four shots, including three 3-pointers, before her only miss of the day. Seeing their star out there provided an emotional lift for the Mystics, and Emma Meesseman and Kristi Toliver took care of the rest, combining for 41 points.
"Having EDD on the floor, of course that's going to instill confidence in everybody else," said Toliver, who had 20 points and 10 assists. "Of course she's limited. Everyone knows she's limited. But the last time I checked, she could still catch and shoot."
Delle Donne played in spurts, going for 4-5 minutes at a time before subbing out and riding a stationary bike in the tunnel behind the Mystics' bench. Even when she wasn't riding the bike, she didn't sit, so her back wouldn't tighten up.
"Sitting is my worst enemy," she said. "I haven't sat much these past couple of days. When I do, I get really stiff and it's hard to get up from it. So I've been doing a lot of standing, a lot of core work, a lot of glute work. But, yes, sitting has been really bad for me."
Delle Donne stayed mostly on the outside on offense Sunday, driving to the basket sparingly. She picked her spots though, hitting one big basket on a drive in the fourth quarter as the Sun were making a run.
"There's moments when I know I should attack and I can't," she said Monday. "There are moments when I'm like, `OK, I'm going to put my body on the line here and hopefully the game will be over in three minutes. It's a whole different thought process."
The Mystics were fortunate to have so much time between the second and third games of the series. There's less rest time now, with Game 4 on Tuesday and a potential Game 5 in Washington on Thursday.
The Sun hope to take advantage of that. They said they allowed Delle Donne to spend too much time just standing around without any contact spacing the floor for her teammates.
"We've got to put her in action," forward Jonquel Jones said. "If she's going to be out there, we've got to make her move. We just allowed her to rest on defense."
This story has been corrected to show Delle Donne had 13 points, not 16 points, on Sunday.
AP Sports Writer Pat Eaton-Robb in Uncasville, Connecticut, contributed to this report.
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Updated October 7, 2019