WASHINGTON -- Most nights for Mystics superstar Elena Delle Donne call for her to score. Some nights require her to do just about everything else.
In Washington's Game 2 win on Thursday night, Delle Donne was the focal point of the Aces' defense, to the point where double teams were common and open shots were rare. She managed 15 attempts, but only made five of them and topped out at 14 points, well south of her regular season average (19.5).
So, Delle Donne adjusted and, with coincidental timing, did exactly what she described just hours before the game during her acceptance speech for the 2019 WNBA MVP award. Earlier, she explained how seven years of WNBA experience have instilled the importance of making her teammates better, how that ultimately is the separator from winning in the playoffs and going home early.
Thursday put that theory into practice. Delle Donne overcame her off shooting night with 10 rebounds, two blocks and countless plays where she created shooting opportunities.
Delle Donne is known for her scoring. She holds a 20.3-point average for her career and this season became the first WNBA player ever to post a 50-40-90 shooting season.
How she played in Game 2 may have been unfamiliar for some that were watching, but not for those in the Mystics locker room.
"That's the Elena Delle Donne that's the MVP," head coach Mike Thibault said. "This game kind of epitomized it because she didn't have a good shooting game and yet people are running to double-team her and she's finding someone else. She gets double-figure rebounds, she comes up with a big blocked shot down the stretch. Those other things are things nobody ever things about with her."
"I think that’s what makes Delle the MVP is because she doesn’t force anything," guard Kristi Tolliver said. "She’s able to just be herself stay unselfish – we have a very unselfish team."
Thibault revealed that as the game went on, he purposefully drew up plays to use Delle Donne as a decoy just to get shots for Emma Meesseman, who had a game-high 30 points, and others. Delle Donne had no qualms with it, either, as she watched five of her teammates reach double-figures.
"That's what this team is about. On any night, someone can step up and take over," Delle Donne said.
That attitude can spread on a team. If the best player is giving herself up for a greater cause, others have no excuse not to do the same.
As guard Natasha Cloud described, Delle Donne is so versatile that a bad shooting game doesn't fit the traditional definition of an 'off night.'
"I wouldn't say that she was off, I would just say that she missed some shots. But even on this type of night, she's a player that you have to commit to, that you have to respect," Cloud said. "You have to respect her shot and you have to respect the player that she is, especially on the offensive end."
Stopping Delle Donne and the three-point shot were the main areas of emphasis for the Aces on defense, and technically their strategy worked. Delle Donne didn't light up the scoreboard and the Mystics attempted only seven threes in the first half after taking 28 in Game 1.
But they didn't account for how Delle Donne would adjust. That left a sense of bewilderment in the Aces' locker room as they processed a game that has them one loss away from elimination.
"I thought we did a decent job on her," Aces star A'Ja Wilson told NBC Sports Washington. "But we've still gotta get back to the drawing board."
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