Dream Roll Over Liberty on Opening Night in Atlanta

New York came into Philips Arena in Atlanta looking up from a 0-3 season start.

They spent a lot of time looking up.

They got the chance to look up at Atlanta hanging their 2011 Eastern Conference Championship banner which joined the one from 2010. And they got many opportunities to look up at the scoreboard as the Dream won all four quarters of their opening debut on the way to a 100-74 rout of the Liberty in their home opener on Friday Night.

"I thought our post players played really well," Atlanta head coach Marynell Meadors said after the game. "They did a good job of rebounding, they did a good job of hitting the outlet passes, and we were rolling. We’re a pretty quick team. We got a lot of players sitting on the bench, they all got some minutes tonight so I was happy with that."

The score was not as close as it looked.

New York never led. Atlanta had a double digit lead for half the game and a twenty-point lead throughout the last quarter. The only drama left at the end was whether the Liberty could stop the Dream from taking a 30-point victory lap (yes) or if they could keep the Dream from hitting the century mark (no).

In the first quarter the Dream were able to get a lot of open looks and even with forward Sancho Lyttle having two fouls, players like forward Angel McCoughtry and point guard Lindsey Harding quickly put points on the board and the Dream led 28-18 after one quarter. With New York guard Cappie Pondexter missing in action – she played 18 minutes in the first half but added nothing to the box score – McCoughtry could rest easy and skipped the entire final quarter.

The Dream took a 9-0 run early in the second quarter and New York’s hope of exploiting Atlanta’s inside game fell apart as Atlanta clearly won the battle of the boards, scoring 46 out of 100 of their points in the paint. Atlanta was up 48-31 at the half and the game was effectively over. New York wouldn’t have much luck on the perimeter either, although Pondexter would wake up in the third for 14 of her 18 total points.

With the game pretty well in hand, Atlanta’s only problems came when they forgot to move the ball. Even so, Atlanta attacked the basket all night and when they moved the ball New York couldn’t challenge. The Liberty turned the ball over 22 times. Atlanta’s dominating win gave Meadors the opportunity to give her bench playing opportunity. No Atlanta player had fewer than six minutes during the game and every single player on the Dream scored.

The Dream had been looking for a sharpshooter in 2011 – someone to stretch the defense. The Kelly Mazzante experiment failed but it looks like the Dream might have found the answer in guard Laurie Koehn, who scored nine points in just seven minutes of play – shooting 3-for-5 from three point range.

"Give her a net and she’s going to put it in; it’s like a layup for her. That’s one of the reasons she made this team is because of her 3-point shooting," Meadors said.

Koehn can not only hit the three but she can sink it several feet behind the line. Even Sancho Lyttle got into the act, going 0-for-1 from long range after hitting a couple during the game against Indiana.

Angel McCoughtry led all players with 23 points and had seven assists and six steals. Lindsey Harding added 19 points for Atlanta, and Yelena Leuchanka – in her first game back after a concussion – added 10 points and seven rebounds.

"You saw the physicality," Meadors said. "She does a great job. She rebounds, she defends really well inside. And I tell you, she just does a great job for us."

Five players scored in double figures for New York, led by Pondexter with 18 points. Forward Plenette Pierson added 11 points and 10 rebounds for a triple double. Center Kara Braxton went 5-for-7 for 10 points but also had six turnovers. Point guard Leilani Mitchell only played 19 minutes and was held scoreless, having five assists but four turnovers.

OBSERVATIONS

Who will be the spark off the bench? The Dream won’t have Iziane Castro Marques, who had the potential of scoring 20 plus points when she got hot. I asked Coach Meadors if there was a player who could fill a similar role. "I thought Tiffany [Hayes] played really well off the bench," Meadors said. "…we can probably go with Ketia [Swanier] and Lindsey playing at the same time so we’ve got a lot of options there. Cathrine Kraayeveld can also step out and play the three. We’ve got a lot of combo players on our team so we need to take advantage of their versatility."

Is Sancho Lyttle going to Spain? It seems to be a given by women’s basketball followers that Lyttle will leave Atlanta at the end of May to join the Spanish team in preparation for the 2012 Olympics. I asked Marynell Meadors to clear up the situation.

"She’s not going to Spain," Meadors said. "That’s coming from Spain! She is not leaving here."

Is that a promise? I asked. "You can ask her. She’s not going. She’s not going."

No New York Groove. This is the first time the Liberty have lost four games to start the season since 2006 – New York’s worst season ever.

Pondexter’s point totals. Over four games, those would be19, 18, 15 and 18. It might be that the only person who can hold Cappie Pondexter under 20 points a game is John Whisenant.

Dress casual. The opening festivities started with an impromptu dance group that took the floor. It reminded me of a flash mob, but in a good way. Furthermore, the opening promo had the Dream players tossing the ol’ rock in their street clothes. (Well, not Leuchenka who was dolled up.) It looks like casual is being emphasized. I like it.

How do they do that? Halftime entertainment was "Quickchange" – a magic act that you’ve probably seen more than once if you’re a season ticket holder. But trust me, it’s worth it every time you see them. It’s the same act over and over and it never fails to amaze.

Altanta celebs. Among the attendees at tonight’s game: Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and Julius "Dr. J." Erving.

Beware of the dog. A few games a year, Atlanta holds an Aaron’s Dog Drop. Aaron’s is a furniture rental store and they drop stuffed dogs from the rafters that parachute down to the fans. Usually, you have to wait a few games but this is the first time I’ve seen a drop on opening day.

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