WASHINGTON -- Everything was rolling for the Washington Mystics – aside from some no-calls from the officials – through the first half of their contest against the Dallas Wings. At one point, they led by 12 and seemed to be in control at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. Players were loose, the bench was producing at a rate that hadn’t been seen all season and things were looking good for a team trying to make an end-of-season push.
Then halftime hit. And anyone who’s watched the Mystics the last five games knows that halftime is their kryptonite.
This time it was more than just a second-half collapse. Two minutes after the break, something did not feel right for Elena Delle Donne in just her third game since her major back recovery. The two-time MVP left the game and did not return for the remainder of the contest.
“She was taken out kind of precautionary," head coach Mike Thibault said postgame. “On that play under the basket where she got a couple attempts, it just didn't feel right to her, took her out, and we're at that point right now we're not risking anything. So precautionary, we'll see what she's like tomorrow.”
The play of focus was just the second offensive possession for Washington in the half. Delle Donne drove the ball to the rim and missed a layup, on a second and third effort, and the ball pinballing around, she grabbed the rebound then laid it up and in. At least initially, she didn’t show any discomfort as she grinned running back down the court.
But when Thibault called a timeout to attempt to halt a 6-2 Dallas run, Delle Donne did not huddle with the team and went straight back to the tunnel. That’s not too out of the norm for her, as she often goes and discusses how she is feeling with Dr. Mike Davis of Monumental's Basketball Athletic Care and Performance Department. Even hopping on the stationary bike for the next several moments was normal behavior, as standing and moving are more comfortable for her than sitting.
Being kept out for precautionary reasons was the best news for the Mystics. It was nothing serious at the time, just discomfort and the organization playing it safe. From the long-term perspective, given how serious the recovery was for Delle Donne, there’s no reason to risk further injuring her back. Play it safe, the roster should be good enough to win some games.
But the issue in the short-term is the roster hasn’t lived up to expectations to get those wins. Once she left, the team was outscored 42-32 by the team holding the final playoff spot. Any boost from Delle Donne is desperately needed as the team is now 1.5 games out of the playoffs with eight games left.
“I think there was a point that we all looked on the bench and realized that she wasn't there and yeah, I think it settled in that she wasn't going to be returning when she didn't resurface,” Theresa Plaisance said. “And we just got to keep rolling with the punches, this is what this whole season's looked like. We've been kind of plagued with injuries, and Elena is a big piece of our puzzle and without her it really sucks but we all have to pick up the pieces where they lay.”
Before she left, Delle Donne was posting another solid outing. It would have ranked third of her three games she’s played since her return, but seven points (3-for-7 shooting) and five rebounds in just 12 minutes is encouraging.
Now the Mystics just wait to see what a night’s worth of rest does for their franchise player, no different than what they would have done had she not been taken out early.
The rest of the roster, though, has to figure out how to get the ship pointed in the right direction and into the playoffs. Tina Charles is already out for at least two more contests, perhaps Delle Donne misses some time as well.
“We have to play with who we're playing with, who's available to play,” Myisha Hines-Allen said. “We can't be dwelling on who's not here and that was for the whole season because we've been missing Elena for a lot of the season, we miss [Natasha Cloud], we miss me, we miss Erica [McCall], so it's just like the players that are out there, that's who we have to play with. That's who we got to rock with. We can't keep worrying about who's not here.”