Elena Delle Donne's precautionary exit for back tightness raises long-term concerns again

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Elena Delle Donne exited midway through the second quarter of the Washington Mystics' 84-82 win against the Chicago Sky on Wednesday and did not not return with what the team from apparent back tightness. Delle Donne played three games over the past two years following two back surgeries.

The 2019 MVP asked to come out with 7:15 left in the second quarter of a one-possession game. It happened after she set a screen on Sky guard Allie Quigley, bumping into her hip. Quigley stole the pass meant for Delle Donne and the Sky scored in transition. Delle Donne signaled to the sideline to exit, walked to the tunnel and did not return, though she was listed as questionable.

She was 1-of-6 with two assists and a rebound in seven minutes on the floor.

Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said after the game "it wasn't anything necessarily serious, just tightening and [it was] better to sit her down."

“I don’t foresee anything long-term at that," he said, via NBC Washington's Tyler Byrum. "She still hasn’t seen the doctor yet, but she’s going to be okay.”

He said she wasn't experiencing any of the symptoms she had a year ago when she was pulled from her third game of the 2021 season and never returned. Delle Donne was "just uncomfortable more than anything," he said. Point guard Natasha Cloud said the concern "is not even about basketball," but for Delle Donne as a person, friend and team family member.

Delle Donne, 32, has missed four games due to planned rest as the Mystics (8-5) work with her in keeping health a priority. They want to manage her workload, including rough travel stints that could aggravate the injury. She's averaging 15.8 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while shooting 47.4% and 38.9% from 3-point range. Both marks are right at her nine-year career average and she has looked like her 2019-year self.

Delle Donne's injury history

Elena Delle Donne.
Elena Delle Donne exited the game against the Chicago Sky with back tightness and did not return. (Photo by Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Any back issue for Delle Donne takes on heightened attention given her absences from the league over the past two years. She played through three herniated discs in her back during the 2019 WNBA Finals, which went to five games against the Connecticut Sun, and underwent two back surgeries within a year.

Delle Donne, who also lives with Lyme disease, has had to retrain how she moves her body for lifetime health. The Mystics even have a special chair on their bench for her to ease any issues in her back.

The two-time MVP skipped the 2020 season while rehabbing and out of concern for her health during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic. She appeared on track to return for the start of the 2021 season, but that was continuously pushed back until she made her debut in August. Delle Donne played 52 minutes over three games before being pulled as a precautionary measure. She did not play another minute that season.

The Mystics will play the Minnesota Lynx at Target Center in Minneapolis on Friday and return home for a Sunday evening tile against the Phoenix Mercury. Thibault said it was not a scheduled rest day for Delle Donne. It might become one depending on the severity of the tightness and precaution. Washington has the fourth-best record in the league.

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