Someone important was missing, and it showed.
The Washington Mystics had their share of chances to take control against the Atlanta Dream Friday night, but without superstar and leading scorer Elena Delle Donne at the center of the offense, those efforts faltered.
In a rough and sometimes sloppy Game 3 of the WNBA Semifinals, the Mystics fell 81-76 to the Dream and conceded a 2-1 series lead to Atlanta.
Washington will host Game 4 on Sunday; a loss would end its season short of the WNBA Finals once again. The game time is yet to be announced.
Aerial Powers led the Mystics in scoring, posting 18 points along with eight rebounds in just 22 minutes off the bench. Ariel Atkins scored 17 and LaToya Sanders tallied 12 points, eight boards, four assists and six blocks.
The Mystics were hampered by poor shooting nights from their starting guards. Kristi Toliver went 3-for-15 and 1-for-9 from deep for just seven points, and Natasha Cloud scored only three. Without them or Delle Donne, there was not enough offense to counter the sharp shooting of Atlanta’s Tiffany Hayes, who led all scorers with 23 points, and Brittney Sykes, who had 17.
Dream forward Elizabeth Williams also had a big night in the paint without Delle Donne to reckon with, scoring 14 on 7-for-12 from the field.
The team announced an hour before the game that Delle Donne was out. She entered Friday listed as questionable with a bone bruise in her left knee she suffered in the fourth quarter of Game 2 Tuesday. She participated in the Mystics’ morning shootaround about 10 hours before the game, so it might have been a gametime decision. Coach Mike Thibault previously said her decision would be a matter of pain tolerance.
It is unknown whether Delle Donne will play Game 4.
The Dream went on a 6-0 run at the end of the first quarter to go ahead 19-13. Tianna Hawkins, starting in Delle Donne’s place at the four, led the Mystics with five points in the first. But as a team they shot just 31.3 percent and 1-for-5 from 3-point range.
Washington came charging back in the second quarter with some help from its bench. Powers came off the bench firing away, taking her first six shots and totaling six points as part of an 11-3 Mystic stretch.
Meanwhile, Thibault tried and tried to communicate with the officials as calls seemed to go the Dream’s way almost exclusively. Kristi Toliver was called for a technical that angered the coach, and not a minute later, an acrobatic Atkins shot was nullified when officials ruled for a jump ball instead.
At the end of the game, though, Atlanta had been called for five more personal fouls than Washington.
The sides traded baskets the rest of the quarter. Jessica Breland scored on three straight possessions to help the Dream separate themselves and bring a 37-34 lead into halftime.
The Dream scored the first seven points of the second half and Washington didn’t get on the board for almost four minutes. The Mystics fell back in a hole, trailing by as many as 10.
But 3-pointers from Atkins and Toliver and a Powers coast-to-coast layup bookended a 12-1 Washington run that again brought the game even.
Atlanta led by just two to start the fourth, but soon, consecutive 3-pointers from the red-hot Hayes and Brittney Sykes dug the Mystics’ hole deeper with time ticking away. It would end up being the hole from which they wouldn’t recover, even as they pieced together one final 6-0 run with 2:30 to play.