By MARK F. GRAY, Special to the AFRO
Normally when a team returns home after a split of the first two games in a playoff series it feels good about the chance to advance. However, there are other tales from post season locker rooms of how a series doesn’t really begin until the home team loses.
Washington Mystics magic carpet ride to the WNBA semifinals hit a major bump in Atlanta as they blew a 10 point second half lead and fell to the Dream 78-75 to even the best of five series 1-1 as the team heads back to D.C. hoping they haven’t lost their top player.
This may prove to be the costliest loss of the season for the Mystics who had control of game two – and of the series – midway through the third quarter. However, things took a dramatic turn late in the fourth when they lost former league MVP and all-star Elena Delle Donne was lost to a horrifying knee injury where teammates had to carry her to the locker room and she never returned.
Delle Done had been playing the best basketball of her career during these playoffs and was the catalyst to this post season surge. Despite missing the game two’s final three minutes Delle Donne finished with 27 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and two blocks. She was having a historic postseason for the Mystics during which she has averaged almost 26 points per game and didn’t miss any of her 19 free throw attempts. Now there is real concern in Chinatown that she may be joining fellow all star Angel McCoughtry on the sidelines for the rest of the series.
McCoughtry is a playoff nemesis for the Mystics averaging 20.4 points per game in postseason against them. The Baltimore native led Atlanta to series wins in 2010 and 2013 over Washington. However, she tore ligaments in her knee early in August and is out for the rest of the year.
The stats and her all around game have been impressive but, Della Done was nearly unstoppable through the first three games of the WNBA playoffs. Her 25.5 points per game was becoming the stuff of legend. In three postseason games against the Los Angeles Sparks and the Dream she exploded for double figures in points and rebounds
The momentum of this surge began last season when Mike Thibault – the winningest coach in WNBA history – took his injured team to the doorsteps of the Finals. That team made its run without Delle Done and relied on former Maryland star Kristi Toliver to carry them as they fell just short. It is unknown whether they will have Delle Done back in the lineup for the rest of the playoffs. Nonetheless, Washington finds itself within three games of the championship round because the players with that pedigree have elevated their level of play as the games have become more important.
Delle Done and Toliver had been as dominant an inside outside combination as there is in the league and their consistency was key to this year’s success away from D.C. The Mystics won 10 games on the road during the regular season which is the most the franchise has ever won outside the friendly confines of Capital One Arena.
In published reports Delle Done was optimistic about her chances to return citing that despite needing help from teammates to leave the floor there wasn’t a great deal of swelling. However, it was Toliver who almost in tears during the post as she was reluctantly preparing to try and put the team on her back to carry them to the WNBA Finals.