June 17, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Connecticut Sun center Tina Charles (31) grabs a rebound against the Atlanta Dream during the second half at Philips Arena. The Sun defeated the Dream 75-73. Photo by Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE.
How can you win without Angel McCoughtry?
This was the question the Atlanta Dream had to ask itself when McCoughtry was scratched from the lineup with a left knee ligament strain before a Father’s Day game against the Connecticut Sun. The Dream’s defense came within 3.1 seconds of answering that question but had no answer for Tina Charles’s 23 points and 22 rebounds as the Dream lost at home in the final moments, 75-73.
"A year ago, I don’t think our team would have won a game like this," Connecticut Sun head coach Mike Thibault said. "It is a skill to have the mental capacity to kind of stay in the game when you’re stinking the gym up."
What was the key to Connecticut’s triumph?
"I thought the difference in the game was to allow Renee Montgomery to take some shots and make them," Atlanta Dream head coach Marynell Meadors said. "And then we allowed Tina Charles to get 22 rebounds. That’s far too many."
Charles would sink the final free throws of the game with 3.1 seconds on the clock that gave the Sun their first lead of the game. Charles’s performance was her third career double-double of at least 20 points and 20 rebounds, setting a WNBA record.
Even without McCoughtry, the Dream came ready to play, ready for a high tempo game and a defense that gave Connecticut fits. The game went through guard/forward Armintie Price who scored six points and four rebounds in the first quarter with rookie guard Tiffany Hayes scoring five points of her own to put the Dream up 20-11 at the end of the first.
The Dream continued a 14-0 run across two quarters to put Atlanta up 27-11 after the first minute of the second quarter. But Tina Charles – held scoreless in the first – woke up and went 6-for-7 shooting with 13 points and six rebounds in the second quarter alone, matching Atlanta’s effort on the boards single-handedly. Charles led the charge to bring Connecticut within three points, down 39-36 at the half.
It would remain a close game from that point on. The Dream never fell behind but Connecticut was always a step away. Where Tina Charles left off in scoring in the third, Sun guard Renee Montgomery took over with 10 third-quarter points. The Dream tried to counter Connecticut’s rebounding dominance with a zone defense, but Montgomery’s two 3-pointers in the third forced the Dream to abandon their strategy.
"We’ve been good all year about sharing the scoring load," Thibault said. "We had a game last week where we had seven people in double figures…the players are used to having different players step up at times. Which makes you hard to scout and play sometimes, when you have that many people who can have a 15 to 18 point game every night."
But Atlanta remained in the game. Atlanta had a +11 turnover advantage going into the fourth quarter and as long as the Dream were strong defensively they had a chance to win it.
"The combination of our speed and our quickness is really bothering a lot of folks," Meadors said.
They led 67-60 with 7:32 remaining but Charles kept working on the inside and the Sun fought to a 69-69 tie with just five minutes left. The Dream scored the next four points, but with 1:23 left a hook shot from forward Asjha Jones tied the game again at 73-73.
Both sides swapped missed shots and the Dream held the ball with 27.8 seconds. Atlanta point guard Lindsey Harding missed the critical shot and the Sun would have the last possession. Charles was fouled by Price going up for the shot with 3.1 seconds left, and her free throws would give the Sun the lead they needed for the win. Atlanta had the final possession, but Dream forward Sancho Lyttle could not make the shot on the final drive.
"You can win games when you do the little things like that at the end," Thibault said. "We got big stops at the end."
Arminite Price finished with 20 points, five rebounds, six assists and four steals. Her 20 points were a season high and only two points away from her career high. Four Dream players finished in double figures, including Tiffany Hayes with 11 points and five steals in just her second career start.
Tina Charles had 22 rebounds, just one rebound short of her career high of 23 – which she’s achieved twice. Montgomery added 19 points and guard Kara Lawson scored 11 points and added four assists in the Connecticut victory.
There wasn’t much about the effort for Atlanta Dream head coach Marynell Meadors to criticize. "I thought our team fought hard. We played without our top scorer, the top in steals. And we fought hard, and we played hard, and we played well enough to win the game. We just didn’t win it."
- Tina Charles's 20/20 points/rebounds game was only the 11th such game in WNBA history. Charles owns the last three such games, one for each year from 2010 to 2012 with one such game coming against Atlanta on July 7. 2010 making her the only WNBA player to have two 20/20 games against a particular team.
- Four current and previous Dream players have had 20/20 games. Chamique Holdsclaw had two games, and Michelle Snow and Sancho Lyttle have had one game each. However, Holdsclaw and Snow's games came when they were not with Atlanta, making Lyttle the only player ever to have a 20/20 game as a member of the Atlanta Dream. (Atlanta vs. Indiana, June 19, 2010)
Thibault on the Sun’s increased maturity level: "We’re the second youngest team in the league but we’re starting to act like a more grown-up team the past few weeks. Last year we won six total road games and this year we’re 3-0 on the road. So it’s a big, big difference right now."
Thibault on the Dream going into the zone defense in the third quarter: "They zoned us last week at our place too and for a stretch it bothered us and then we kind of made a couple of adjustments. Renee knocked down that three in front of the bench and it kind of got them out of the zone finally. When you play Tan [White] and Kara and Renee together along the perimeter it kind of stretches the defense a little bit. I don’t think they were as comfortable playing that zone with us having our three best three point shooters on the floor at the same time."
Meadors on Tiffany Hayes and Aneika Henry: "[Tiffany’s] been getting better and better and better every single day. And I’d hate to guard her because she goes 900 miles an hour all the time and she never runs out of energy. And our other rookie Aneika Henry I thought did a fine job."
Meadors on Angel McCoughtry’s injury: "We just didn’t want to take a chance. If we had to play her we probably could have. I just think that it might have been best if we set her." The decision was made at game time.
According to Meadors, she had the same problem with her left knee and the same ligament at the beginning of the 2011 season. She re-injured the ligament on Friday and McCoughtry is day to day. Surgery will not be necessary, only rest and rehabilitation.