WASHINGTON -- Sequels are sometimes as good as the original. But this time, the Washington Mystics hope the sequel has a different ending from the original.
Friday night featured the second comeback for Elena Delle Donne in as many seasons. This one came on the season opener against the Indiana Fever, the former coming mid-season last August.
While the opening credits faded away, Delle Donne came out and performed exactly how one would expect the two-time MVP to after returning from a significant back injury and multiple procedures. In front of a home, sold-out crowd, there were flashes of brilliant play, showcasing her versatile skill set in the post and her stroke from deep.
It wasn't an all-time performance by any means - for a player that has had many of those - but she was more than comfortable being out on the court. There were no signs of hesitation or awareness that she had to be careful in her movements to protect her back.
The result is something everyone can be happy about. She posted 21 points on eight-for-16 shooting (1-for-5 3FG) with nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks. All of it coming in a straightforward win for Washington and with Delle Donne feeling great afterward.
"Yeah, it's definitely a good start," Delle Donne told reporters postgame. "It's not really something I was surprised at because of how I've been preparing and feeling, and then continuing to trust in this process of coming back and not going crazy."
There were no nerves for Delle Donne as she was playing just her fourth game in over 900 days. No lack of confidence either. When pregame ceremonies began she became locked in on the opponent, not thinking about the emotions and the journey to get back to this point. That's not to say she didn't have some hiccups.
"My shot looked like I had nerves," Delle Donne joked when asked if she was nervous. "I didn't feel too nervous but I was struggling a little bit to getting a flow and to trust in my leg. So I guess I might call that a little bit of nerves or just it's been a while. But I was able to play my way into it."
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What she did on Friday rivaled that of her first return in 2021 - where she ended up playing only three games. That night against Seattle, she had 16 points, making five of 11 shots with three rebounds.
But the biggest difference is the approach to what's going to follow for the remainder of the "exploratory season" for her. Delle Donne will sit out games for load management throughout the season to pace her body back to a normal workload. Her first rest game is Sunday as she won't even make the trip to Minnesota.
"She looked comfortable, I thought, for the most part, " head coach Mike Thibault said postgame. "She's probably a little tired tomorrow. I would have liked to kept the minutes a little bit lower but she felt good and then she's not gonna play again until Tuesday and she's got plenty of recovery time, but I thought she was really good."
It's just the latest significant step of the second comeback going off without a hitch. This time around so far, so good. The next step will come four days later in their next home game against the Las Vegas Aces (May 10 at 7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).
Of course, it's never ideal for an organization to have to rest their franchise player. That's where the eyes have to remain steadfast on the ultimate goal, which is to maximize how much time the Mystics can get from her on the court. If that can be spread out throughout the season and presumably playoffs then Washington is due for a good year.
And even if she's only on the court for a limited amount of time this season, the motivation she instills to her teammates is another benefit of having the superstar on their roster.
"The hours that we see her putting in from last season even when she wasn't going to play. In at 5 a.m. staying for our practices, out at 5 p.m., and that's every single day and she still continues to do that while playing," Natasha Cloud said postgame. "She'll be here for another two hours tonight... And when you have your franchise player leading by example in that way, how can we not get in and put in extra work? How can we not get in and take care of our bodies? So moreso than anything as her friend, as her family it's a beautiful thing to see her go through what she went through all those trials and tribulations and for things to come full circle for her and seeing her play out there tonight."