- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2018

A different Washington Mystics team took the court in Game 4 of the WNBA Semifinals, and not only because Elena Delle Donne was back in action.

Guards who had poor shooting nights the game before caught fire again. Shots fell. Rebounds kept going to red jerseys.

“We’re not going home,” Natasha Cloud said as she subbed out of the game in the final minute and slapped five with coach Mike Thibault.

The Mystics ran over the Atlanta Dream 97-76 Sunday at the Charles E. Smith Center, forcing a Game 5 in their penultimate playoff series. Delle Donne scored 11 clutch second-half points as part of a double-double in her return to action following a knee injury.

The teams will play Game 5 in Atlanta Tuesday night. The series victor will face either the No. 1 Seattle Storm or the No. 5 Phoenix Mercury in the WNBA Finals.

All five Washington starters scored in double figures, but Kristi Toliver led them all with 22 points and added a team-high seven assists. Ariel Atkins had 19 points and Delle Donne finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The star forward wore a knee brace on her left knee, where she had a bone bruise that caused her to miss Game 3. When she wasn’t on the court, she pedaled on an exercise bike to keep the knee loose. She said it felt “great” after the game.

“We live to play another day. My knee feels awesome,” Delle Donne said.

The Mystics shot 50 percent (35-for-70) from the floor. They’ve averaged 48.3 percent shooting in their three playoff wins and 37.9 percent over their two losses.

A 17-2 Mystics run spanning the end of the first quarter and beginning of the second put Washington ahead 14. Delle Donne grabbed five rebounds in the first, but did not score until a turnaround jumper in the second.

Atlanta cut the lead to 44-35 by halftime, but Washington made its first four 3-point shots of the second half. They looked ready to put the game away when the Dream ripped off another 10-0 run late in the third to draw within five.

Delle Donne broke that streak with another trey and the Mystics scored 10 points in the final two minutes of the period. They carried that dominance into the last frame, including a stretch where Atkins scored eight points in a row.

Upon hitting her fourth 3-pointer, Toliver finally came off the floor for the first time all game after playing the first 36:22. Toliver joked that her stamina comes from the occasional Miller Lite or Jameson whiskey.

“I’ll play 65 minutes if I have to … It’s do or die at this point,” Toliver said. “There’s no excuses. You have to leave everything out there.”

The win was a team effort, but Delle Donne’s teammates and coach had high praise for her after the game.

“She just gives everybody else around her confidence that we kinda got this, that we have the best player in the game on the court,” Thibault said.

In answering the last question of the press conference, Delle Donne said that the defense locked in after Atlanta’s 10-0 run, saying, “No one had to be Superwoman.”

As she and Toliver left the podium, Toliver leaned back to the mic and concluded, “But we got our Superwoman back.”

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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