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Delle Donne plays; Mystics lead WNBA Final

UNCASVILLE, Conn. — Washington didn’t need Elena Delle Donne to be a superstar on Sunday, they just needed her to be out on the court.

The WNBA’s MVP provided an emotional lift by playing through a back injury and her teammates responded with a solid effort to beat Connecticut 94-81 and move the Mystics within a victory of winning their first championship.

Delle Donne, who has a herniated disk that is pinching a nerve in her back, had not practiced since leaving Game 2 with back spasms. She finished with 13 points, hitting 5 of her 6 shots and played 26 minutes.

“I just want to be a leader for this team. I love them. I did nothing, I was just on the court, they carried me and they’ve done that all season long,” Delle Donne said. “I love them to death. We have one more to go.”

The 6-foot-5 wing was clearly limited in her movement and stayed mostly on the perimeter, but was effective enough to command the attention of Connecticut’s defense.

“Her presence alone, whether she’s 100% or 10% just instills confidence in the rest of the group,” said guard Kristi Toliver. “She showed a lot of character. She showed a lot of heart just being out there on the court today.”

Toliver, Emma Meesseman and Natasha Cloud carried the offense. Meesseman had 21 points off the bench, including nine to start the fourth quarter. Toliver added 20 points and 10 assists. Cloud chipped in with 19 points. The team made 16 of 27 shots from behind the arc.

Washington will try and close out the series on Tuesday night in Connecticut.

Delle Donne hit an early 3-pointer and the Mystics made six of their nine shots from behind the arc in the first quarter to take a 32-17 lead after 10 minutes.

Washington led by as many as 17 points in the first half. It was 37-23 before the Sun went on a 16-4 run and Washington led 43-39 at the break.

Jonquel Jones converted a 3-point play to open the third quarter cut the lead to one, but that was as close as Connecticut would get.

They trailed by two when Delle Donne hit a 3-pointer from the left wing to make it 58-53. The Mystics took a 68-57 lead into the fourth quarter and stretched that to 18 before a final run by the Sun that Delle Donne ended with a tough layup.

“It was kind of one of those moments, like hey I might give my back up and my body up on this one, but I feel like this is such a big moment to stop that run that they’re making,” she said.

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