2-time MVP Elena Delle Donne scores 16 points in return from 2 back surgeries since October 2019

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Elena Delle Donne, the Washington Mystics' two-time WNBA MVP, scored 16 points in over 22 minutes during her first game since October 2019. It was the superstar's long-awaited return after two back surgeries kept her out of action. 

Delle Donne, whose return was made official when she was part of the starting lineup Sunday afternoon against the Seattle Storm, connected on her first field-goal attempt with a signature turnaround jumper in the 85-78 loss

"I had that like first day of school butterfly feeling," Delle Donne told ESPN's Holly Rowe. "I was super nervous. i was even telling my family, look I’m super nervous. This might not be good."

It may not have been peak EDD, but it was far from "not good." She was 5-for-11, including 1-for-2 from 3-point range, with three rebounds in her first game action in 22 months. 

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The key will be how Delle Donne, who had two back surgeries within a calendar year and had to relearn how to walk and move, feels Monday. She said her health is still a "day-to-day" thing. 

"We'll see after the adrenaline wears off how I'm doing and get ready for the next one," she said. 

The Mystics host the Los Angeles Sparks on Tuesday night as both chase playoff spots with the season winding down. 

It was the first time the starting group of Delle Donne, Tina Charles, Natasha Cloud, Ariel Atkins, Myisha Hines-Allen took the floor together because of injuries around the roster.  

"It's good to have my Batman back," Cloud told media pregame.

Delle Donne led the Mystics to the franchise's first title that autumn while playing with three herniated discs in her back. She delivered the WNBA's first 50/40/90 shooting season and won her second MVP award, the first to win it with two different teams. It was expected she would play Sunday when ESPN moved the game to its main channel and the Mystics upgraded her to probable.

Delle Donne makes first basket in nearly 2 years

Delle Donne, who turns 32 in a few weeks, entered to a roaring ovation during introductions and hit her first basket in nearly two years less than a minute into the contest. 

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She was 1-for-4 with two rebounds in 11 minutes of action in the first half. Head coach Mike Thibault expects her minutes restriction will be about 20. 

He was incensed in the second quarter when a clear foul on Delle Donne wasn't called. ESPN's Holly Rowe said Thibault was concerned ahead of the contest the star wouldn't get calls she deserves. 

The Mystics went up 11-2 early, but the Storm rolled back into it for a 43-33 halftime lead and hit key shots late to keep pace atop the standings.  

Delle Donne's return back to the court

Shortly after the 2019 championship she underwent back surgery. Initially she was expected to be ready for the 2020 season, but the COVID-19 pandemic messed with her rehab schedule and she opted out of the season altogether for health concerns. 

Delle Donne has played with Lyme Disease her entire career and detailed in a Player's Tribune article the toll it takes on her, such as having to take 64 pills a day. The Mystics paid her salary even though she shockingly did not receive a medical exemption. 

Delle Donne underwent a second back surgery in December 2020 and has been slowly working her way back. She began five-on-five practices for the first time since 2019 at the end of the Olympic break. Thibault said she would be on a minutes restriction and would be slowly worked back into games. 

It has been 682 days since her last WNBA game and 51 players have made their WNBA debut in that timespan, per Her Hoop Stats.

Mystics, Storm in playoff fights

The Mystics and Storm are the two most recent WNBA champions (Storm won in '18, '20) with MVPs and Olympic gold medalists on each side. The Mystics added Charles, the 2012 MVP, in free agency ahead of 2020. It's the first time she and Delle Donne are playing together and Charles led Mystics' scorers with 20 points and nine rebounds. Hines-Allen added 17 rebounds. 

The Storm have 2018 MVP Breanna Stewart, veteran point guard Sue Bird and Olympian Jewell Loyd, who has been on a tear out of the break. Stewart scored a game-high 20 points with 12 rebounds, five blocks, two assists and two steals. 

They're at opposite ends of the playoff battle as teams close out their last 10ish games of the season. The Storm (18-7) entered Sunday a half-game back from the Connecticut Sun (17-6) and Las Vegas Aces (17-6) for the two top seeds and a first-round bye in the playoffs. They are now locked even, but have played two more games than the other two teams.

The Mystics came into the day at 10th, two spots out of the playoffs and trailing No. 8 Dallas Wings by a half a game. They remain 10th, but now trail the No. 8 spot by 1.5 games. The Los Angeles Sparks (10-13) defeated the New York Liberty, 86-83, to bump up

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