When Atlanta and Indiana play each other, you can expect a battle. These two teams account for the last five Eastern Conference championships and this season, the visiting team has always won. Just two days earlier the Dream had beaten the Fever in Indianapolis and last night was no exception at Philips Arena, with the Fever winning 77-70 to tie up the regular season series at two games each.
“I commend our players for playing hard,” Dream head coach Michael Cooper said. “Toward the end we executed defensively as well as offensively, and that got it within reach until the replay. [See below.] We were not good making our free throws either. Had we made our free throws that would have kept us in the game and possibly won it for us.”
“I thought we came in this game feeling like we let them have that game [on Sunday] at our place,” Fever head coach Lin Dunn said. “So we wanted to come in here and prove we’re not going to let you take this game away from us again.”
The Fever got on the board first and a three-pointer from forward Marissa Coleman put Indiana up 5-0. Atlanta then took control with Dream center Erika de Souza hitting four quick points to take the lead 9-7 and forcing the Fever into a time out. Unfortunately, both teams fell into foul trouble with referee Michael Price keeping his whistle warm all night and with both teams over the limit, the Fever went 9-for-9 at the free throw line in the first quarter. Defensive lapses by the Dream helped the Fever finish with a 7-0 run that gave Indiana a 26-19 lead after the first quarter.
It could have been the odd line-up of forward Swin Cash, guard Matee Ajavon, and point guards Shoni Schimmel and Celine Dumerc that contributed to the Fever run, but a conventional line-up did no better for Atlanta. Back-to-back 3-point shots by Marissa Coleman put the Fever up 37-25. Indiana remained dominant at the free throw line with 11-for-12 accuracy in the first half Atlanta recovered, assisted by Indiana guard Briann January’s elbow making contact with Dumerc’s head and getting charged with a flagrant one foul. But neither team could break 40 percent shooting, and with the Dream held to just 16 first-half rebounds Indiana held a 40-34 lead at the break.
The game would have to be decided on the little things. The Dream picked up four personal fouls before two minutes were over in the third; Indiana soon caught up and both teams were over the limit less than halfway through the quarter. Indiana hit their free throws; the Dream missed theirs. But the Fever went cold – they went 3-for-18 in the third quarter – and the Dream went on a 7-0 run to tie the game 50-50 on a fast break bucket by forward Angel McCoughtry. Unfortunately, the Dream passers couldn’t find their targets and Indiana led 56-52 after three quarters despite their horrible shooting.
Of course, it would come down to something not having to do with shooting. With Atlanta challenging late in the fourth and down 71-70 with less than a minute to go, Indiana guard Syndey Carter ran over Dream guard Tiffany Hayes in what looked to be a clear offensive foul. However, the play was reviewed and Hayes had one heel on the line marking the restricted zone in the paint. The foul was changed to a block foul against Hayes, and Atlanta never scored again.
“I think the officials made the proper call,” Cooper said. “You go and check the monitor on a play like that. They said she had her foot on the line. But that wasn’t what lost us the game. It was our inability to come out and establish and sustain our running game like we have in our previous home games. If you don’t do that, you are not giving yourself a chance to win.”
Four players scored in double figures for the Fever, led by guard/forward Karima Christmas with 18 points and nine rebounds. Carter scored 11 points off the bench, with nine of her 11 coming in the final quarter.
“I thought our bench really helped us in crunch time,” Dunn said. “Carter, having another quick guard in there, was huge for us. She and Christmas are MVPs of the game; with Christmas knocking down her free throws and Carter’s defense and quickness.”
“I think I just came in with an attacking mindset,” Christmas said. “My coach always wants me to attack first and then let the game come to me, and I think I did a good job of that. But at the same time I just played off my teammates. They put me in a great position to just score and get to the free throw line.”
Atlanta’s Erika de Souza led all players with 23 points and had nine rebounds. Angel McCoughtry had 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists but shot 6-for-18 for the night.
The Dream fall to 7-2 at home…with both home losses coming against Indiana. The final game of the regular season between Atlanta and Indiana will be at Indiana on July 16th.
At the free throw line, the Dream were 20-for-32 – their worst performance of the season at the line. In contrast, the Fever’s 27-for-30 was their best regular season free throw shooting this year.
Both teams combined for 54 personal fouls – 28 for Atlanta, 26 for Indiana.
The Dream went 0-for-13 behind the 3-point line, the first time this season that they have failed to make at least one 3-pointer in a game. Tiffany Hayes went 0-for-4; Shoni Schimmel 0-for-5.
Indiana’s 34.8 percent field goal performance was a regular season low for the Fever. Atlanta’s 36.8 percent wasn’t much better.