WASHINGTON — Elena Delle Donne returned to her high-scoring ways after a two-game injury absence. The star rookie also helped put the Chicago Sky on the cusp of the franchise’s first playoff berth.
Delle Donne scored 24 points and Sylvia Fowles added 16 points and 15 rebounds as the Sky beat the Washington Mystics 79-73 on Tuesday night.
Courtney Vandersloot had a season-high 19 points and seven assists to help Chicago (18-8) rally from a double-digit deficit for the second straight game. The Eastern Conference leaders reduced their magic number for clinching a playoff spot to one and can secure it with a win against New York on Friday.
“We want to make history,” said Delle Donne, who made three 3-pointers in her return after spraining her left foot against Los Angeles on Aug. 13. She previously missed two games earlier in the month and the WNBA All-Star game following a concussion here on July 24.
“I think adrenaline takes over and you don’t feel any pain anymore,” Delle Donne said after grabbing eight rebounds in 32 minutes.” I was happy to see that I wasn’t favoring my foot or anything like that.”
Actually, the Sky already made some history as the victory assured the franchise of its first winning record.
“Obviously for the franchise, the fans, these players, it’s huge,” Sky coach Pokey Chatman said. “I won’t try to minimize it, (but) it won’t change how we approach things (against the Liberty) … It’s huge and we just have to make sure we get it the next time out.”
Kia Vaughn scored a season-high 21 points and Ivory Latta had 12 for the Mystics (12-15), losers of two straight. Washington led by 11 points after one quarter, but fell behind after going nearly 11 minutes without a field goal in the second half.
“Didn’t shoot the ball well in the third,” a stunned Latta said. “Gotta deal with it and be ready for Friday. “Yeah, I don’t have too much to say about it.”
Winners of a combined 11 games the previous two seasons, the Mystics host Atlanta on Friday. The loss dropped Washington into a statistical tie with idle Indiana for third place in the Eastern Conference.
After allowing 41 points in the first half, the Sky’s halftime discussion centered on about stopping Washington’s offense, period.
“We wanted to come out and have three defensive stops and we were able to put seven together,” Delle Donne said. “It was just crucial that we played great defense. That was our focus. At halftime, we didn’t speak about offense at all. It was all about defense.”
Without Delle Donne, the Sky stormed back from a 25-point deficit for an 89-78 home win over Connecticut on Sunday.
The Mystics led 41-37 at halftime, but shot 1 for 16 from the field in the third quarter. After Tierra Ruffin-Pratt’s layup with 7:22 left in the third, they missed 15 straight attempts until Vaughn’s jumper with 6:28 remaining in the game.
“I felt like during that period like everything just stopped and I was like, ‘why isn’t the ball going in? What’s going?’ Things weren’t flowing. It wasn’t clicking. We hit the lull.”
Despite Washington’s shooting struggles, Chicago could not pull away due to its own inaccurate ways, but never relinquished the lead in the tense final minutes.
Vandersloot’s 3 from the right wing with 1:14 remaining made it 73-68 and the point guard drew a charge from Monique Currie on Washington’s next possession.
“I think the person that stayed consistently strong was Courtney Vandersloot,” Sky coach Pokey Chatman said. “She hit a couple of big shots and did a lot to help us along the way.
“Obviously having Elena back and scoring 24 points was good for us.”
Chicago made 4 of 6 free throws over the final 32 seconds.
Vaughn entered averaging 5.5 points in 26 games this season, having gone 10 straight games without a double-digit performance. She smashed her previous season-high of 10 points in the first quarter and had 17 by halftime.
In the third quarter, Vaughn briefly left the game after taking an inadvertent blow to the head and scored only four points in the second half.
After missing six of their opening seven field-goal attempts, the Mystics went on a 12-0 run and led 28-17 after the first quarter. Vaughn scored 13 points in the first including a stretch five straight Washington baskets.
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