A critical injury at the worst time
WASHINGTON — The 2019 WNBA Finals faced its first major crisis of injury, as Elena Delle Donne of the Washington Mystics left the game with back spasms.
The injury flared up with 6:32 left in the first quarter, leading Delle Donne to leave the game. She didn’t return for the remainder of the first half, and the Mystics said that she’d be questionable to return. Early in the fourth quarter, she was ruled out for the game.
“We’ll see. But I have no idea right now, and we won’t have anything probably for a couple days until we see what the tests show and what treatment looks like,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said of Delle Donne’s status postgame. “But it wasn’t good. On the very first lay-up that she went up for, it grabbed on her, and she came down and just immediately said, ‘Give me a sub.'”
Without Delle Donne, Tianna Hawkins was pressed into larger duty, and performed well, with eight points of her own. But Jonquel Jones, freed from covering Delle Donne, was a force of her own, with 18 points and 10 rebounds in the first half alone, finishing with 32 and 18.
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Any injury to Delle Donne would not be fatal to Washington’s chances, but it would fundamentally change the complexion of the series. Delle Donne won the 2019 MVP, and was the best player in the league by a wide margin — her 7.7 win shares easily led the WNBA in 2019.
As it was, Washington nearly came back after falling behind, 29-17 after a quarter, and played Connecticut even over the final three quarters, losing 99-87.
“This franchise has played stretches without her before,” Sun coach Curt Miller said. “So we knew that we weren’t going to get an easy break just because she was out.”
Delle Donne has suffered through injuries at the worst possible times in the past. In 2014, a back injury limited her in a 2014 finals appearance by her Chicago Sky against the Phoenix Mercury, with Diana Taurasi and the Mercury sweeping the Sky. And in 2018, after miraculously returning from a bone bruise in her knee, playing at what she recently told High Post Hoops was “maybe 70 percent”, her Mystics fell to the Seattle Storm.
She’ll have some time to recover — Game 3 isn’t until Sunday on the schedule.
It’s a situation that Mike Thibault faced before — his star player getting hurt in the WNBA FInals. It happened to Lindsay Whalen back in 2005.
“I mean, I think it’s a little bit different in that Lindsay was our point guard, and that made a bigger impact on our team in the sense that our offense started with her,” Thibault said. “We still have our point guards, but what Elena does is take pressure off of other people because it stretches the defense.”
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