Delle Donne, ‘playing free’ after injury issues, nets team-high 21 in Mystics’ win

M.A. Voepel, ESPN.comAug 27, 2023, 12:17 AM ET

CloseM.A. Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

Playing in her third game since the end of June, Elena Delle Donne led the Washington Mystics past the first-place Las Vegas Aces 78-62 on Saturday.

Delle Donne had a team-high 21 points, and she was one of three Mystics players with seven rebounds. She played 22 minutes, the most game time she has had since scoring 31 points in 34 minutes against the Atlanta Dream on June 30.

Saturday in Washington was just the second time since June 25 that starters Delle Donne, Ariel Atkins (ankle) and Shakira Austin (hip injury) were all healthy and able to play for Washington. Atkins had 16 points against the Aces, while Austin had five points and seven rebounds.

“It felt so good to be out there … just to have the whole group out there felt good,” Delle Donne said. “I think you could see it; we were just playing with joy, sharing the ball, trusting in each other. That’s what it can look like.”

The Mystics are now 16-18, tied with Atlanta for sixth place in the WNBA. It was Delle Donne’s 17th game overall this season. She missed the past two games with a hip injury following a brief return on Aug. 18, when she played 11 minutes but tweaked the hip. Before that, Delle Donne was dealing with an ankle injury that kept her out all but one game in July — she played 13 minutes on July 9 — and the first two-plus weeks of August.

“It’s a big difference,” Atkins, who returned to action Aug. 18, said of Delle Donne being back. “Just simply the presence she brings on the court and the attention she commands. It obviously makes my life easier.”

Delle Donne won her second MVP award in 2019, leading the Mystics to the WNBA championship despite what turned out to be serious back issues that required surgery. She missed the 2020 season and all but three games of 2021. She played 25 games last season.

“It’s been a heck of a journey, and a lot of tough spots mentally,” Delle Donne said. “I have my teammates to get me through the tough days, and a belief in myself — knowing if I stick to my game plan, stick to all the things that have gotten me back from the awful back injury, I know that I can really get through whatever it is, if I just stay diligent.

“I’m playing free. I don’t think about injuries or, ‘Oh, what if I step on a foot again.’ It’s basketball, and you’ve got to just enjoy the moments you’re out there and play as hard as you can.”

Source link

Leave a comment