(ATLANTA) – It would have been nice for Atlanta to clinch the third of the four playoff spots in the Eastern Conference on the final home game of its regular season – but they’d need some cooperation from Chicago to do that. Even though the Sky failed to hold up their end of the bargain, the Dream won their last home game against the visiting Seattle Storm by a 77-61 margin.
"I love the way we are playing right now," Dream forward Angel McCoughtry said. "We are playing really well together and it’s showing. Everything has been going wonderful and I hope we keep this great team energy up for this upcoming road trip, and then playoffs."
"We had an opportunity," Seattle Storm head coach Brian Agler said. "We worked ourselves back in the game in the third quarter. I think we may have been able to tie it up or go down by one. Like I said, we had our opportunities. Our team just has to be a little more mentally and physically tough."
The win improved the Dream to 17-14 for the year. It was their fifth straight home victory.
The first quarter provided an interesting matchup between Dream forward/center Erika de Souza and Storm forward/center Lauren Jackson. Few players can take on Jackson one-on-one, but de Souza won the battle initially, shooting over the 6-6 Jackson and helping Atlanta to a 10-8 lead at the first time out. Jackson had four points and seven rebounds in the first but the Storm had trouble hanging on to the ball – guard Tanisha Wright had three first-quarter turnovers – and the Dream led 19-14 after ten minutes with eight of those points coming from de Souza.
McCoughtry made her presence felt quickly when she came off the bench, scoring seven points early in the second to put the Dream up 28-18 and forcing a time out from Seattle. She added three more points to help the Dream to a 10-0 run that put Atlanta up 33-18. All in all, it was an all-McCoughtry quarter. She scored 14 points in the second quarter to give Atlanta a 37-25 halftime lead.
McCoughtry’s 14 first-half points and 6-for-6 shooting led all players in the first half, whereas Seattle was held to just 9-for-28 shooting.
Seattle started out strong after the break with a running layup from Storm forward Camille Little closing the gap to 43-33 with 6:17 to go in the third. When Little scored her third basket of the quarter, McCoughtry came off from the bench again but a 3-pointer by Jackson closed the gap to 45-39 – but a block from Dream forward Cathrine Kraayeveld kept Jackson from adding another two points. A Little layup put the score at 45-41 and Erika de Souza picked up her fourth foul and had to go to the bench. The Dream maintained a 53-49 lead at the end of three quarters, and with 10 third-quarter points from Lauren Jackson the Storm looked like a real thread, able to be patient and slow down Atlanta’s pressing attack.
"Teams make runs in this league," Atlanta head coach Fred Williams said. "I don’t care if you have a 20-point lead or a 15-point lead. And we felt if we could sustain them coming out on us, and could come back at them, and keep the ball inside, then we could keep a double-digit cushion. Then we felt we could pull it out and our players did that for us defensively."
A 3-pointer from point guard Sue Bird closed the gap to 55-54 early in the fourth quarter but after two quick fouls on Jackson – her fourth and fifth of the night – the Storm went dry. Atlanta then went on a 13-0 run and the lead was never in doubt again.
McCoughtry would finish the night for Atlanta with 23 points. Erika de Souza would score 20 points and add eight rebounds for the Dream. The 16 steals from Atlanta tied a season high. As for Seattle, three players scored in double figures - Jackson with14 points and eight rebounds, Little with 13 points and eight rebounds and forward Tina Thompson with 11.
"We know that we can come back," Jackson said. "In the third quarter we definitely made a run on them. I think that it’s just one of those things about toughness; we have to be tougher in games like this. We know how to play, it’s just a matter of doing it."
* If the Dream make the playoffs - which they should be able to do if they win one of their remaining games - they are guaranteed at least one more home game this season.
* Both the Dream and the Storm were 0-for-4 from behind the three point line in the first quarter.
* Halftime was marked with a moving rendition of "God Bless America" and an unfurling of a court-size American flag in honor of those lives lost on September 11, 2001.
* The Dream are 4-0 over Seattle over the course of 2011 and 2012. Atlanta’s last loss to Seattle was at Philips Arena on September 16, 2010 – an 87-84 loss in Game Three of the WNBA Finals when the Dream were swept.