SEATTLE — Elena Delle Donne was answering yet another question about her sore left knee, but the Washington Mystics’ all-star forward might as well have encapsulated the team’s overall thought process heading into Game 2 of the WNBA Finals on Sunday after getting blown out in the series opener Friday night.
“Excuses are for losers,” she said.
The Mystics certainly had plenty of mitigating circumstances to explain the 89-76 loss at packed KeyArena, not the least of which was Delle Donne wearing a brace to protect a bone bruise and starting center LaToya Sanders playing with a broken knuckle in her right (shooting) hand.
Washington also had to travel more than 2,600 miles across multiple time zones to one of the most inhospitable venues for opponents, a building where the Storm has lost just four times this season.
In addition, the Mystics had boarded a flight directly to Seattle on Wednesday afternoon from Atlanta, where they had beaten the Dream the previous night in Game 5 of the semifinals, instead of going home first.
No one in the Mystics locker room, however, mentioned any of that as justification for Washington’s most lopsided playoff loss this year — and the score wasn’t indicative of how decisive the defeat was.
“We’ll make adjustments as need be, and there need to be adjustments,” Mystics guard Natasha Cloud said. “We’ve got to get back to being defensive-minded and focus on getting stops and allowing ourselves to be put in a successful situation, and then we can get into our transition offense.”
Washington typically has been efficient collecting fast-break points but finished at an 18-0 deficit in that category in Game 1, routinely a step behind Storm players, most notably Jewell Loyd. The off guard scored 23 points and went 3 for 3 from three-point range.
The Mystics, meanwhile, made three three-pointers as a team, with Kristi Toliver going 1 for 8 from beyond the arc. Toliver also had three of Washington’s 13 turnovers in a fourth consecutive game in which the Mystics committed at least a dozen.
“I don’t know if it was jitters or just understanding how hard it is to play in a series like this and the little things like getting open and casual passes,” Mystics Coach Mike Thibault said. “The casual passes you can throw some games, they’re never going to get there in games like this unless you work a little harder. We need better screening. We need better footwork to get open.”
Underscoring Washington’s stagnant offensive sets were its 11 assists on 29 made field goals. Frequently the Mystics’ most productive possessions came when forward Ariel Atkins drove one-on-one to the basket, and even though the rookie sensation made 10 of 14 field goals and scored 23 points, sharing the ball had yielded the optimum results in these playoffs.
Washington logged 43 assists combined, for instance, in the final two games of the WNBA semifinals. In a 96-64 win against the Los Angeles Sparks in the single-elimination quarterfinals, it set a franchise playoff record with 28 assists, including nine from Toliver and seven from Cloud.
The Mystics’ starting backcourt totaled seven assists and four turnovers Friday night in the first WNBA Finals game in the franchise’s 21 years.
Toliver finished with five points on 2-for-11 shooting against the Storm, her lowest point total in the playoffs this season. The only player on the Mystics with a WNBA championship, Toliver had combined for 41 points in the final two games of the semifinals, including 22 in Game 4 to help Washington stave off elimination.
Toliver, who won the 2016 WNBA title with the Los Angeles Sparks, has a track record of bouncing back from poor games.
How much Delle Donne can contribute scoring-wise, meanwhile, remains uncertain. Since injuring her knee late in the fourth quarter of Game 2 of the WNBA semifinals, the former WNBA MVP is averaging 13 points. She averaged 26 over the first three games of the postseason, including 32 in Game 1 against the Dream.
Delle Donne’s 10 points Friday were her fewest in the playoffs this year, although the first-team all-WNBA selection sat out the fourth quarter with the outcome already decided.
“If I wanted to be 100 percent, I wouldn’t have come back,” Delle Donne said somewhat defiantly. “I knew coming into this thing I was going to have to figure out a different way to play. It might not be the same basketball I’ve been playing all season, but I still feel like I can impact the game. My teammates like Ariel, she’s got my back. She can carry me on offense.
“But we’ve got to be better, and we’ll find a way.”