Storm dominate Mystics, Elena Delle Donne in WNBA Finals Game 1 win

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The first minute of Game 1 of the WNBA Finals offered an early indication of what kind of night it would be for 2015 MVP Elena Delle Donne and the Washington Mystics, who lost 89-76 to the host Seattle Storm on Friday night.

Isolated against Seattle’s Natasha Howard at the top of the key, Delle Donne pulled up for a 19-foot shot that Howard altered and came up well short of the basket. Delle Donne would finish 4-for-11 from the field, scoring 10 points — her lowest output in a playoff game since scoring two points in 10 minutes in Game 1 of the 2014 Finals against Phoenix while with the Chicago Sky.

Back then, Delle Donne was dealing with a sore lower back that forced her off the court. This time, she’s playing through a bone bruise to her left knee suffered during Game 2 of Washington’s semifinals win over the Atlanta Dream that kept her out of the lineup in Game 3 of that series. In three games since returning, and wearing a bulky knee brace, Delle Donne has totaled only 39 points on 15-for-39 (38.5 percent) shooting, a far cry from her regular-season averages of 20.7 points and 48.8 percent shooting from the nike

Nonetheless, after the game Delle Donne refused to blame her struggles on the injury.7

“We can talk about my knee after this series,” Delle Donne said. “Excuses are for losers. If I wanted to be 100 percent, I wouldn’t have come back. So I knew coming into this thing I was going to have to figure out a different way to play.”

It didn’t help matters that the Storm used Howard, an All-Defensive first-team pick this season, as their primary defender on Delle Donne — a slight change from how Seattle had matched up in the past. During the regular season, Breanna Stewart guarded twice as many as Delle Donne’s shot attempts against Seattle as Howard, according to Synergy Sports tracking.

Starting in the opening minute, Howard’s length made life difficult for Delle Donne.

“It takes pressure off Stewie by doing that,” Mystics coach Mike Thibault said. “They try to keep length on [Delle Donne], and Natasha’s really long. Then when they put [Alysha] Clark on Kristi Toliver, that allows them to do some switching on us and try to keep from creating mismatches in pick-and-roll situations. We’re going to have to find other ways to create mismatches without Clark being involved at the same time.