WASHINGTON (AP) Elena Delle Donne wasn’t about to let a knee injury sideline her again with the Washington Mystics season at stake.
She had 15 points and 10 rebounds in her return from a bone bruise in her left knee and the Mystics forced a decisive Game 5 with a 97-76 win over the Atlanta Dream in the WNBA semifinal series.
Delle Donne started, played 34 minutes, sank 3 of 5 three-point attempts and scored 11 points in the second half after sitting out Friday’s 81-76 loss. She suffered the injury in the final minutes of Atlanta’s 78-75 Game 2 victory.
”I would have killed coach (Mike Thibault) if he didn’t let me play full out,” Delle Donne said. ”He knows. I gave him the look and he knew I was fully ready to go and wanted to be in there as much as I could.”
The 2015 WNBA Most Valuable Player award winner sported a bulky brace on her left knee. She failed to score until less than four minutes remained in the first half, but her presence immediately helped open the floor for teammates. Washington shot 50 percent from the field overall and sank 12 of 26 from beyond the 3-point arc.
”Whether Delly is on crutches, it doesn’t matter. If she’s on the floor, they have to respect her and honor her,” Kristi Toliver said. ”That changes everything for everyone.”
Toliver led the Mystics with 22 points as all five starters scored in double figures. Ariel Atkins scored 19 points, Natasha Cloud 13 and LaToya Sanders 10.
”Elena Delle Donne, she kind of sucks you in (defensively),” Dream guard Renee Montgomery said, ”but they caught fire.”
Tiffany Hayes, Montgomery, Brittney Sykes and Jessica Breland each scored 12 points for the Dream.
The series shifts back to Atlanta for the finale of the best-of-5 series on Tuesday. The Mystics have never reached the WNBA finals in the franchise’s 21 seasons.
Atlanta remains one victory away from the franchise’s fourth finals appearance and first since 2013.
While Washington welcomed the return of its best player, Atlanta remains without All-Star forward Angel McCoughtry, who suffered a knee injury Aug. 7 against Las Vegas. It also still has home-court advantage for the decisive game. The Dream, who closed the regular season winning 16 of 19 games, haven’t lost two games in a row since June 27-29.
”If you told me in February or May or June, even in early July that we would have one game with a chance to go to the Finals I’d be pretty excited,” Atlanta coach Nicki Collen said. ”I certainly told (the players) we have to learn from this game, but we also have to flush. We’ve built up too much momentum to hang our heads.”
The Mystics raced out to a 26-12 lead in the second quarter and entered halftime up 44-35. Toliver, who had only seven points on 3 of 15 shooting in Game 3 topped all scorers with 12 points in the first half.
Delle Donne’s second 3-pointer stifled Atlanta’s momentum after the Dream’s 10-0 run cut Washington’s lead to 62-57 with 2:04 left in the third. Washington pulled away with a 22-7 run starting the fourth quarter for its largest lead at 90-67.
”No one had to be Superwoman, but we just needed to get a little bit smarter and get back to getting stops,” Delle Donne said as the postgame press conference ended. Toliver spoke up leaving the dais.
”But we got our Superwoman back.”
Toliver and Cloud, Washington’s starting backcourt, combined to make 13 of 26 shots after finishing 4 of 22 in Game 3. … The Mystics outrebounded the Dream 40-31 . Atlanta shot 14 of 25 on free throws. … Washington turned Atlanta’s nine first-half turnovers into 12 points while the Dream scored one point off the Mystics’ eight miscues.
The teams split the first two games in Atlanta, though Washington held a double-digit lead in Game 2 before losing. Delle Donne averaged 29.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in Atlanta.