Can the Mystics still win with Elena Delle Donne hurt? Yes, here’s how.

The Washington Mystics announced on Wednesday that Elena Delle Donne has a small disc herniation in her back. She will go through physical therapy and get reevaluated on Saturday. This is brutal for Delle Donne, who played through a bruised knee in last year’s Finals sweep. But at least, she still has a chance to play. More importantly, the Mystics still have a chance to win Game 3 and possibly the series with a hobbled EDD or without her entirely. It would take a herculean effort from the entire Washington organization, but they can do it and here’s how.

Emma Meesseman continues her play

Losing a 6’5 insanely talented big who can shoot, rebound, pass, and hold up defensively is obviously devastating. However, the Mystics can attempt to replace that player with a 6’4″ insanely talented big who can shoot, rebound, pass, and hold up defensively.

Emma Meesseman’s marvelous play continued in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals. She put up 23 points on 10 of 17 shooting and did everything she could to fill in for EDD. As I wrote yesterday, Meesseman’s screening ability, offensive shot creation, and spot up shooting make her a great fit into the MVP’s role.

Luckily for Washington, Meeseman is playing the best basketball of her career right now. Playoff Emma is averaging 19.8 points, 6 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game. Her shooting percentage slash line looks fake: 58.8%/54.5%/87.5%.

Meesseman is now willing to be the focal point of the offense after her teammates encouraged her to take more shots all year. The team has called her the missing piece throughout the postseason. If she can keep up her pace, she will prove them right by making up for some of EDD’s lost production.

Toliver bounces back and leads this team

Kristi Toliver had a rough night in Game 2. While she finished with 13 points and 7 assists, Toliver also shot 30% from the field and 16.7% from behind the three-point line. She took a couple of bad shots late, but as she said it came down to missing decent looks.

“Yeah, tonight was terrible. It was bad. It’s a lot of shots that were makeable shots, and they didn’t go down. I am kind of proud of myself because I can’t remember the last time I shot the ball 20 times.” said Toliver with a smile. “It’s just finding the rhythm, and it’s finding the conditioning level to play the 38 minutes when I haven’t played like that in a while.”

Toliver will obviously need to play better and figure out how to stay fresh at the end of the game. She has had a lot of success against the Sun off the bounce. KT also should make some of the open threes that she missed in Game 2. If she does that, Toliver will bounce back to her normal form.

As far as making up for whatever percentage of Delle Donne is missing, Toliver will need to continue to attack the Sun in the pick-and-roll. She ranked in the 96th percentile of pick and roll ball handlers in the regular season and continued her success in Game 1, when she put up 18 points. The All-Star guard needs to continue confusing Jasmine Thomas with her stop-and-go moves and hesitations. Her success off picks will open up the entire offense by getting bigs open looks and forcing rotations.

The team trusts Toliver in games like these and she will need to come up big for them. At the very least, we know she won’t be scared of the moment. After Game 2, Kristi seemed completely calm and said the team was pissed off. When I asked what difference that would make, Toliver laughed and coolly responded “we will see on Sunday.”

Washington’s Role Players get going

Throughout the season and playoffs, it seems like at least one of the Mystics’ “role players” would explode for 15-plus points and provide an energy boost. The group that will need to play even better than they have all year. Tianna Hawkins, Aerial Powers, Ariel Atkins, and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough all need to help fill in the void left by Elena Delle Donne.

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Hawkins and Powers both gave Washington great minutes in Game 2. Hawkins had 16 points and some massive rebounds in the 4th quarter. Powers played active defense and made some ridiculous buckets. Both should continue to play a lot. Hawkins brings size to fill in for EDD while Powers can usually attack a mismatch with her speed.

Ariel Atkins was the hero of Game 1 of the Finals. Atkins’s main task will be to keep Courtney Williams in check. She (and everyone else who tried) could not guard Court, but Atkins has the potential to at least slow her down. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough has yet to make a mark in the playoffs. But she can knock down shots and give Toliver or Cloud little breaks when she plays well.

For the Mystics to win without EDD, all of these players will need to play well. Not one or two, but ALL will have to make positive impacts. After a year where they all showed the ability to do so, the Mystics’ role players have a chance to show the world how good they really are.

The Blueprint

Those are the general contours of Washington doing well in this series. Here is specifically how the Mystics win Game 3 without EDD:

  • A 27-plus point first quarter with a lead. This team thrives off throwing the first punch and playing from ahead. They will need that cushion and early energy to beat the Sun.
  • Emma Meesseman does what she has done all playoffs
  • Kristi Toliver puts up at least 20 points and shoots above 45% from the field.
  • Natasha Cloud and Latoya Sanders hit their offensive averages and play great defense.
  • At least two of the role players have 12 or more points
  • Atkins and Powers harass Courtney Williams into a sub-40% shooting night
  • DC keeps the rebounding margin within 5 boards.

That’s a lot to do on the road against a Connecticut team with more talent at the moment and more confidence. The Mystics also don’t have a big margin for error. Foul trouble, fatigue, and one player shooting poorly will do them in. But if they follow that blueprint, they can win Game 3 and maybe even the whole series.

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