Elena Delle Donne spent the last five days doing everything she could to be able to play in the pivotal Game 3 of the WNBA Finals.
It wasn’t until she stepped on the court to warm up an hour before the game to test her balky back that she knew she could give it a go. And now she has the Mystics one victory away from the first title in franchise history.
“Basically (I’ve been) doing anything possible to get back out there,” Delle Donne said after the 84-71 win Sunday. “We have a really great medical staff, phenomenal doctors, great trainers. So they’ve been working on me for five days straight. I was glad to have a little bit of a break to get it to calm down a little bit, just trying to find ways to stay comfortable and stay loose.”
Delle Donne, who has been snake-bitten by injuries and illnesses throughout her career, hadn’t been on the court since leaving Tuesday’s game early on. An MRI revealed that she had a small herniated disk that is pinching a nerve in her back.
“We really didn’t know if I was going to be able to go today because I hadn’t done anything until right up before the game,” she said. “And we were able to kind of test it a little bit and go from there.”
The 6-foot-5 wing played 26 minutes, scoring 16 points. She hit her first four shots, including three 3-pointers, before her only miss of the day. Seeing their star out there provided an emotional lift for the Mystics and Kristi Toliver and Emma Meesseman took care of the rest.
“Her presence alone, whether she’s 100 percent or 10 percent, just instills confidence in the rest of the group,” said Toliver, who had 20 points and 10 assists. “And she showed a lot of character and showed a lot of heart just being out on the floor today because she’s obviously not feeling great.”
Delle Donne played in spurts, going for 4-5 minutes at a time before subbing out and riding a stationary bike in the tunnel behind the Mystics’ bench. Even when she wasn’t riding the bike, she didn’t sit, so her back wouldn’t tighten up.
“Sitting is my worst enemy,” she said. “I haven’t sat much these past couple of days. When I do, I get really stiff and it’s hard to get up from it. So I’ve been doing a lot of standing, a lot of core work, a lot of glute work. But, yes, sitting has been really bad for me.”
Delle Donne stayed mostly on the outside on offense, driving to the basket sparingly. She picked her spots though, hitting one big basket on a drive in the fourth quarter as the Sun were making a run.
“It was kind of one of the moments like, ‘Hey, I might give my back up and my body up on this one,’ but I feel like it was such a big moment to stop that run they’re making,” she said. “And I knew I’ve got a phenomenal team. They’ve carried me this whole series, and they’re going to carry me the rest of the way. So I just saw I might have a lane, because I hadn’t driven or done anything really, so I just tried to attack.”
The Mystics were fortunate to have all the time between the second and third games of the series. There’s less rest time now with Game 4 on Tuesday and a potential Game 5 in Washington on Thursday.
“She wants to win a championship bad enough that we’ve got another 40-some hours to recover, 50-some hours,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said. “So we’ll try to do the same process we’ve done the last couple of days and see what we feel like come Tuesday.”
Follow Doug Feinberg on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dougfeinberg