Delle Donne’s status for the rest of the series remains uncertain. She did not speak with members of the media following Thursday’s practice.
The Mystics went 0-4 during the regular season when the six-time all-star was either not in the lineup or barely played, including one game when she logged one minute before departing with a broken nose.
“It means collectively the group has to, A, believe that we’re good enough, which they are,” Thibault said. “B, our bench showed the other day offensively that we can do a lot of things.
“I think it took us a while mentally to adjust with Elena being out of the game. Now we’ve got four days to prepare for that possibility.”
The most significant modifications for the Mystics in Delle Donne’s absence, Thibault indicated, concern rebounding and defense, particularly when it comes to limiting Jonquel Jones, the Sun’s 6-foot-6 center who had a career-high 32 points and a WNBA Finals-record 18 rebounds, including nine offensive, in Game 2.
Washington was outrebounded 41-27.
With the 6-5 Delle Donne drawing the primary defensive assignment on Jones in Game 1, the former George Washington standout finished with 12 points and six rebounds in Washington’s 95-86 triumph.
“I thought Game 2 was partly us and partly” Jones, Thibault said. “She was much more aggressive and active, and we have to match that. But we got caught in bad rebounding positions because we tried to help off of her at times when we shouldn’t have."
Emma Meesseman moved into Delle Donne’s slot in Game 2 and is in line to start there Sunday if the Mystics’ scoring and rebounding leader does not play. Meesseman led Washington in Game 2 with 23 points and eight rebounds, playing 35:48, second only to point guard Kristi Toliver.
Meesseman, a two-time all-star, had not played more than 28 minutes in any of the past three games in the WNBA playoffs after averaging a shade below 24 minutes during the regular season.
“We’ve worked on some big things on defense, like communicating more,” Meesseman said. “I think that’s the big thing for us, and be more physical, so I don’t think it really matters who’s on the court for that. Everybody has to be physical and take a step higher in everything we do on defense and rebounding.”
The uncertainty surrounding Delle Donne’s availability also likely signals more playing time for reserve forward Tianna Hawkins, who finished Game 2 with 16 points, one short of her career high in the postseason, and six rebounds in 22:47.
It was the most minutes Hawkins has played during the playoffs this year.
She averaged 25.3 minutes over the three consecutive games Delle Donne essentially missed three months ago while recovering from the broken nose suffered July 7 against the Los Angeles Sparks.
“I mean, she does a lot for us,” Hawkins said of Delle Donne. “We all just have to come together and be a little better both on the offensive end and the defensive end. We’ve got to play [Jones] straight up and just be a little more physical with her and make sure we keep her off the boards.”
Jones isn’t the only player Washington intends to be more mindful of either, regardless of whether Delle Donne plays.
Point forward Alyssa Thomas is averaging 20.5 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals in the WNBA Finals, providing another rugged presence inside despite a torn labrum in each shoulder.
Delle Donne at times guarded Thomas as well in Game 1, although her length was better served fronting Jones when she established position on the low block with her back to the basket.
“The issues came regardless of who was on the floor,” Thibault said. “We did a bad job of rebounding the other day. The goal is to contain one or two of their starters, and you’re going to give up something somewhere. We didn’t control anybody the other day because of the rebounding. That’s a huge focus.
“We can make some adjustments defensively on a few things and just play better.”