If you don’t include the loss against Chicago, the 2013 fans have been treated to a set of games so close that the outcome could have gone one way or another.But on Friday night against the visiting Seattle Storm, an 18-5 run by the Dream late in the third quarter gave Atlanta breathing space and the Storm faded late in the fourth for the Dream to earn an 80-69 home win.
Seattle head coach Brian Agler wasn’t high on his squad, calling the game "a series of turnovers, transition baskets and missed shots." Cooper had praise for Seattle."I think they came out and really instigated what was going on on the floor, " he said, "and I think for us to retaliate and make our move in the second half shows that the work we’ve been putting in during practice is slowly but surely paying off."
Down 5-0 to start the first quarter, Atlanta followed with a 9-0 run to give them the breathing space they’d need to take a 20-16 lead out of the 1st quarter.However, the Dream would be challenged offensively by Seattle’s outside shooting as the Storm went 3-for-5 from the outside in the first ten minutes and hit a pair of three points from guard/forward Shekinna Stricklen and guard Temeka Johnson to take a brief lead.
Defensively, Seattle played close to the baseline, defying the Dream to either drive to the basket or create outside shots, something the Dream did not do well in the first half.The Storm’s center Crystal Langhorne got the better of the Dream’s posts, scoring 14 first half points and five rebounds, whereas Dream starting forwards Angel McCoughtry and Sancho Lyttle and center Erika de Souza only had 16 combined first half points.The Dream fell behind, and it took a last-second running jumper by McCoughtry to close Atlanta within one behind Seattle, 36-35 by halftime.
"I thought she [Langhorne] played well," Agler said."That was a bright spot tonight. I think Temeka’s first half was a bright spot as well."
During Atlanta’s offensive drought, it was up to Dream guard Tiffany Hayes to hold up the tent.She had 12 first half points and would finish the game with 18.Meanwhile, the Dream’s bench players would contribute just four points for the entire game – two from the first half, and two from the second.
Cooper was happy with Hayes’s performance."Tiffany is a defensive player, and I liken her to myself when I used to play. Sometimes, you have to present yourself defensively in order for your offense to come around. She had a tough assignment tonight playing Tanisha Wright and Sue Bird. And sometimes when you play the game that way, defense first, it helps with your offense. She was big for us tonight."
It was the third quarter where the Dream – and particularly McCoughtry – came back to life.Down 48-41 – Seattle’s biggest lead of the night – Atlanta pulled off an 18-5 run of points as McCoughtry scored eight points on 3-for-6 shooting.The Dream had seven assists in the third, and for long stretches the Dream lived dangerously, running with abandon and making long passes with a careless nonchalance.
"Sometimes you hit that brick wall, but we just kept fighting," McCoughtry said."When you hit that wall, you just have to try and climb over it. And I feel like we didn’t get down in ourselves like we did against Indiana."
With Atlanta up 59-53 to start the fourth, the Storm was not down left.Seattle forward Camille Little hit a couple of close jumpers and before anyone knew it, the Storm were tied 61-61 with 6:20 to go.The rest of the game was all Atlanta, with Seattle’s shooters going cold and with the Storm over the limit.The free throws Atlanta hit near the end boosted Atlanta’s margin of victory, implying that it was not a close and hard-fought game.
Seattle’s Langhorne led all scorers with 21 points, 11 rebound and four steals.Guard Tanisha Wright contributed six assists and three steals, and Temeka Johnson scored 11 off the bench.The Storm hit on eight of 19 3-point attempts.
With Atlanta’s bench not scoring, every Dream starter scored in double figures, led by McCoughtry with 20.Rookie point guard Shoni Schimmel did not get the start on Native American Heritage Night, and only scored 2 points with one assist and two turnovers.
It looks like the 2014 Atlanta Dream is still a work in progress."We’re just still trying to figure out our chemistry together and figure out the new system, but that’s normal when you have a new coach," McCoughtry said."But I feel like overall we’re still finding ourselves and we’ll continue to fight through the adversity."
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Angel McCoughtry will reach the 500 assist mark with just three more assists.
Shoni Schimmel’s 38 assists over five games is tied with the best rookie assist total over the first five games in WNBA history.The other person who holds that record?Seattle’s Temeka Johnson, who earned hers with the Washington Mystics on the way to a Rookie of the Year award in 2005.
Looking at bench player totals only, the Dream were outscored 32-4 by the Storm.
Michael Cooper on the run in the 3rd quarter run:"As long as we’re not throwing the ball away and giving ourselves a chance to win, that will put us in some games."
Michael Cooper on things the Dream still has to work out:"I think we did a good job of boxing out and I think our height kind of overshadowed them.Down the stretch they were probably a little leg-weary and Sancho and Erika are taller players.But in order to become a championship team, to play with the Minnesotas and the other teams that are good around the league, we have to do the little things right.We have to box out every single possession, and if we don’t do that we’re going to give teams a chance to play with us."
"The second thing that we have to cue up is our turnovers.We had 17, 18, something like that.That’s still too many for us.I think that some of our players are making bad decisions, maybe fatigue could be a factor but you’ve got to be able to not beat yourself.If you don’t beat yourself it’s going to be harder for teams to beat us."
Michael Cooper on the team’s bench play:"I think our bench is different than other benches.Some teams in this league will have benches where people who come off score, I think our bench comes off and gives us additional help on the defense and to be fundamentally sound.There will be games where we have potential scoring off the bench but now I’m looking for people to just come in and fill their role, and if they do that we’ll be successful."
"Any time we have over 10, 12 points in fast break points we usually win the game.That was evidenced the first two, and the next two games we had like three and eight.Tonight we had 15 points so our bench is coming in and if they can create energy and run the floor, that creates offense for us."