"Just crumbled," were the words the onetime Ursuline Academy phenom chose in an otherwise silent locker room, describing the 79-57 loss that finished off a two-game playoff sweep by the Indiana Fever. "It's upsetting, especially after such a great season."
In no small part because of the addition of Delle Donne, Chicago made the playoffs for the first time in its eight-year history and had the best record in the WNBA's Eastern Conference. Delle Donne was fourth in the WNBA in scoring (18.1 points a game), first in free-throw shooting (92.9 percent), second in three-point shooting (43.8 percent), and fifth in blocked shots (1.8 a game).
But playoffs always offer new lessons.
"Obviously, I need to get a lot better, and I'll spend the whole offseason doing that," Delle Donne said after her 10-point finale on 2-for-11 shooting.
"I've got to get a lot stronger," Delle Donne said.
Her coach hit on the same theme when asked how Delle Donne could take her game to the next level.
"I would say physical stamina - I would say that about any rookie," said Chicago coach Pokey Chatman. "Sometimes that's not factored in. When you're at this level, there's no possession where you can rest. You rest, you get exposed."
This season, Delle Donne fought past a foot injury and a concussion that forced her to sit out the All-Star Game. She has earned the respect of her peers.
"She has a mature game, just a nice, well-rounded offensive game," Katie Smith said Sunday in a telephone interview. Smith just retired from the New York Liberty as the WNBA's second all-time leading scorer.
As a competitor, Smith said, you can watch any new player on television, but you never get a true feel until you face her in a game. Her reaction to Delle Donne: "OK, she's legit."
The difficulty in guarding Delle Donne is the same as it ever was - she's 6-foot-5 and has the skills of a guard.
"I'm right in her space," Smith said, remembering one play this season. "There was a down pick, she curled to the elbow. She's not cat-quick but she's got long steps. I was right there with her. But I'm 5-11. She's just very comfortable, has great concentration."
Asked whether there was any jealousy about a rookie who led the fan voting for the All-Star Game, Smith said the consensus among veterans and coaches she had talked to was that Delle Donne was going about things the right way, blending into her team even as she was part of a new wave of players central to the league's marketing push.
Delle Donne is arguably Delaware's greatest sports icon since Tubby Raymond retired as the Blue Hens football coach in 2001. Vice President Biden counts himself as a fan and knows her personal story, how she left Connecticut after a few days, returned home to her family, enrolling at the University of Delaware. She found it especially hard to leave her sister, Lizzie, who is autistic, blind, and deaf. Away from home, there was no means of communication.
"The individual that left UConn was an 18-year-old," said Delle Donne's brother Gene, who serves as her agent. "What you see now is a 24-year-old woman that's matured over the last six years a tremendous amount."
A big stepping-stone came two years ago, Gene Delle Donne said, when Elena played in the World University Games (and dominated), and trained in Colorado for two weeks before the trip. She realized she could leave home.
The WNBA's niche fan base knows her story. Who knows whether Delle Donne would be as popular if she had simply gone to UConn and become the latest in its line of all-Americans instead of returning to Delaware, playing volleyball for a year, then turning Blue Hens women's games into big-time events?
Another sign of her importance back home: Delle Donne signed an endorsement deal with DuPont. According to Gene Delle Donne, the only other athlete DuPont had ever used as a spokesperson was NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon, for a paint company the conglomerate used to own.
"She is focused on being this American kind of sweetheart, like Mia Hamm in the mid-'90s," Gene said.
Delle Donne will stay in Chicago in the offseason, she said. She'll do some endorsement work and plans to hold a series of camps. But her main focus, she said, will be on her game. That was the plan even before Indiana neutralized her (and all her teammates).
And how did Indiana neutralize Delle Donne?
"The key to Delle Donne is keeping fresh people on her," said Indiana coach Lin Dunn, mentioning the three defenders who rotated, including Indiana star Tamika Catchings. "I thought that wore her down. She's just a rookie. Let's not forget that. . . . And we know her sweet spots. We're going to be there when she's there. We're going to make everything difficult."
Her continuing maturation will come in the spotlight. After the Game 1 loss, Delle Donne pulled her jersey out of her shorts and got into the handshake line. Routine stuff, except the NBA TV camera stayed on her all the way through the line. The winners never got more than a passing look.
TACOMA, Washington - Seimone Augustus hit a 15-foot jumper with 21.1 seconds remaining, and the Minnesota Lynx held off the Seattle Storm for a 58-55 victory and a sweep of their best-of-three Western Conference semifinal series.
Contact Mike Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jensenoffcampus.