Elena Delle Donne wanted to come to Washington in part because of proximity. Moving from the Chicago Sky to the Mystics would allow her to be near her Delaware-based family and sister, Lizzie, who was born deaf and blind, with cerebral palsy and autism, and does not speak.
Arriving in the District also allowed one of the WNBA’s marquee players to vault the Mystics into title contender status. When she first spoke to D.C. reporters in February, Delle Donne knew her presence would shift expectations in Washington. This season became about winning the championship.
The Mystics open the playoffs Wednesday at Capital One Arena against the Dallas Wings following an uneven regular season. Their second-leading scorer, Tayler Hill, was lost for the season after 18 games because of a knee injury. Delle Donne missed nine games because of various injuries, though she was named an All-Star for the fourth time. Washington is 18-16 heading into the single-elimination matchup. It had a five-game winning streak early in the season, but has lost four of five to close the regular season.
The WNBA changed its playoff format last year. The top eight teams make the playoffs and are seeded by record, independent of conference affiliation. The first two rounds are single-elimination. If the Mystics win Wednesday — they are 1-2 against the Wings this season — they advance to play at the New York Liberty on Sunday. The playoff semifinals are the next step. They, like the Finals, are best-of-five series.
When Delle Donne arrived, Mystics coach Mike Thibault salivated about the offensive possibilities. He saw the flexibility in Delle Donne — who is 6-foot-5, a capable 3-point shooter and mobile — and how that could influence her teammates. The Mystics already had forward Emma Meesseman, who, at 6-4 and also able to make 3-pointers, was similar to Delle Donne. But, strangely, when the duo was paired, their 3-point shooting dipped. Delle Donne shot 38.8 percent this season, down from the 42.6 percent of last season. Meesseman suffered a massive drop from 44.8 percent to 31.8 percent.
There is a correlation to that wayward shooting and the stumbling end to the regular season. In the Mystics’ final four losses across five games, they shot 26.4 percent from behind the 3-point line.
Delle Donne has been an MVP, scoring champion and reached the WNBA Finals. Last season, she missed the playoffs because of thumb surgery. She was intent on reworking her postseason history when she came to Washington. Wednesday will give her, and the Mystics, a chance to reboot.
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