Aerial Powers knew it wasn’t good when she returned to the locker room at halftime and Elena Delle Donne wasn’t there.
Not even four full minutes into Game 2 of the WNBA Finals, the Washington Mystics star — and this season’s league MVP, for that matter — exited the contest and headed straight for the locker room.
After banging down low in the post early on, Delle Donne’s back had tightened up, with the team announcing she was suffering from back spasms. Delle Donne did not return.
Without their leading scorer, the Mystics fell 99-87 on Tuesday to the No.2 seed Connecticut Sun. The best-of-five series is now tied at one apiece and shifts to Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday for Game 3.
Mystics coach Mike Thibault said Delle Donne will undergo an MRI on Wednesday, adding the 30-year-old has experienced tightness over the last few weeks.
“It wasn’t good,” Thibault said. “On the very first layup that she went up for, it grabbed on her and she came down and just immediately said, ‘Get me a sub.’”
The Mystics, even without Delle Donne, put up a fight.
A 12-2 run in the third quarter began a rally that continued into the fourth quarter. The crowd at Entertainment and Sports Arena erupted when guard Kristi Toliver sank a layup to tie the game at 76 with 8:14 left.
But the Mystics couldn’t finish. Connecticut answered with a 6-0 run and the Mystics didn’t have enough left to close the gap again after that.
Forward Emma Meesseman, who led Washington with 23 points, missed a game-tying 3-point attempt with 3:43 left. As it left her hand, Meesseman thought it was good — only for the ball to clank off the rim.
“(Delle Donne’s injury) is a blow for us, but I don’t think we can use that as an excuse,” she said. “We know that everybody can play on this team and everybody can step up. I don’t think we were thinking about that during the game. We were just trying to win.”
Besides missing Delle Donne’s offensive contribution, the Mystics could have used her defense and her size.
The Sun shot 49.4% from the field and center Jonquel Jones led with a game-high 32 points. Jones, who had a quiet Game 1, was also a force on the boards, grabbing 18 rebounds — nine on the offensive end.
The Mystics struggled to get into a flow early. Drives to the basket were clogged by a swarming Sun defense. Shots clanked off the rim as Washington opened the game just 2-of-10 from the field.
With Delle Donne in the locker room, the Sun took advantage. The Mystics sagged off shooters and the Sun made them pay. By the end of the first, with Connecticut up 29-17, the Sun had shot 57.1% from the field — and 50% from deep.
To start the second, the Mystics looked more like themselves. Toliver sprinted down the floor, leading fast breaks. The ball zipped inside and out and shots started to fall. Without Delle Donne, Toliver and Meesseeman carried the offense. And with 6:32 left in the quarter, Tianna Hawkins drained a 3-pointer to cut Connecticut’s lead to 34-31.
But the rally didn’t last.
Washington didn’t have an answer for Jones. After holding her to just 12 points and six rebounds in Game 1, Connecticut’s leading scorer erupted for 19 points and 10 rebounds in the first half alone. The Sun led 56-46 at halftime.
The Mystics, though, entered this season looking to redeem themselves after getting swept in last year’s finals by the Seattle Storm. They had faced adversity and were determined to not let a 10-point halftime deficit stop them.
Washington rallied in the third, using a series of defensive stops to get themselves in the game.
It wasn’t enough. As the final seconds ticked off, Jones launched a three-pointer that went in — just one more thing that didn’t go the Mystics’ way.
Moving forward, the Mystics don’t yet know if Delle Donne will be able to play in Game 3.
“I didn’t look forward to having four days between games,” Thibault said, “but right now that looks like a benefit we didn’t have at the start of the series. We’ll see. But I have no idea right now.”