(ATLANTA) - Sometimes, a team gets tired of losing.
Everyone expected that the Atlanta Dream would be looking down on high from the top of the Eastern Conference, but instead the 2010 WNBA finalists were resting in fifth coming into yesterday's game against the Chicago Sky and trying to avoid double-digits in losses.
Yet the Dream looked closer to last year's Eastern Conference winners than in any of their previous games this season, as Angel McCoughtry's 24 points led Atlanta to a 76-68 victory over the visiting Chicago Sky.
"We needed this," said Atlanta All-Star guard/forward Angel McCoughtry. "We have got to keep our confidence up and continue to play hard. If we keep the confidence, I know we can continue to do this. From this point we just need to work on our chemistry and play together. I think that was the key tonight. We played together so this helped get the win. "
Chicago Sky head coach Pokey Chatman gave credit where credit was due.
"[Atlanta] did a good job and took advantage of some things. We spotted them 15 and were fortunate enough to have a tied game at halftime. But when it came down to it, they were tougher, they were stronger. They’re always going to be faster, but there are ways we can combat that. But I feel like we did not.
"They had forty-two points in the paint and that wasn’t just from post players, it was penetration and stepping up the lane, stuff like that. You don’t give yourself a chance when you allow a team to do that, especially combined with 21 turnovers."
For the second game in a row, Dream forward Armintie Price replaced starter Sancho Lyttle, who is still listed day-to-day with an injured back. In that first game Price's start resulted in a 91-69 walloping by the Liberty, but it was the Sky that took the beating in the first quarter as the Dream went up 9-0 in the early going. In the battle of the point guards, Lindsey Harding of the Dream had little trouble with rookie Courtney Vandersloot of the Sky, driving by her more than once for the basket. Dream post player Alison Bales had four blocks in the first quarter alone, and after cruising to a 20-5 lead Atlanta led 20-11 at the quarter break.
Meadors stated that Harding's quickness and experience made the difference against Vandersloot.
"Take nothing away from Vandersloot, because she is really a great point guard and she's going to be one of the future great point guards in this league," Meadors said. "I just thought that the pressure bothered her when we played her. We did this in the first game that we won here against Chicago. Then when we went to Chicago, we didn't defend her that well. We let her have her way, and she scored a bunch of points and dished it off to people that could score also."
Atlanta's first quarter dominance, however, proved illusory. Chicago poked and prodded Atlanta’s weak interior defense and the Sky continued their first quarter run, finding center Sylvia Fowles under the basket to top off a 17-2 run – with a follow-up free throw – to tie the game 22-22. Atlanta recovered its focus on defense and the game stayed close, characterized by a mid-air collision between Price and Chicago guard Epiphanny Prince. The first half ended in a 33-33 tie, with the performance of Alison Bales more than matched by Fowles who finished the first half with six blocked shots.
The Sky had 22 first-half rebounds, 11 of which were on the offensive boards.
Once again, the Dream fell into a third-quarter torpor with the Sky leading 45-37 at one point, their biggest lead of the game. But Angel McCoughtry led the Dream's resurgence, bringing Atlanta within two, down 47-45 with 5:02 remaining. Price soon earned a pair of free throws on a drive to the basket, hit both and the game was tied 47-47 with 3:40 left. The Dream’s inability to hit free throws precluded a better third-quarter finish but they still managed to close within two, down 54-52 at the end of thirty minutes. McCoughtry added seven of the Dream’s 19 third-quarter points.
"We have our backs to the wall," Meadors said. "And [McCoughtry] knows that she's the star that we are trying to get to play like she played tonight. And she was in total control, and it was really good to see."
The Dream dominated the fourth quarter, with McCoughtry tying the game right away on the first Dream jumper and turning on the defensive charm with two steals that led to four Atlanta points early on. A McCoughtry jumper made it 66-61 Atlanta with under five minutes left.
But would Atlanta play an entire game and not just 35 minutes of one?
Fowles’s presence under the Chicago basket was matched by the Dream’s offensive magic. This time, it would be the Sky that melted down, with Alison Bales getting a critical offensive rebound off a McCoughtry missed free throw and a steal at the baseline with 25.9 seconds left to finish off Chicago.
Angel McCoughtry led all scorers with 24 points, with three of her four steals coming in the final quarter. Lindsey Haring had 14 points and seven assists, and Armintie Price scored a double-double with 13 points and 10 assists. The Dream shot 50 percent from the floor, but only 57.1 percent (12-for-21) at the free throw line.
Chicago scored a pair of double-doubles from Sylvia Fowles (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Michelle Snow (11 points, 12 rebounds). Courtney Vandersloot was held scoreless with only two assists over 17 total minutes.
* The win brings the Dream to 4-9 for the year. All of Atlanta's wins have come against two teams: New York (2-2) and Chicago (2-1). The Dream are 3-1 at home and 1-8 on the road, the only road win coming against the Liberty.
* Alison Bales had four blocks for the Dream, all in the first quarter. Bales's career high is six blocks from a game against the Indiana Fever last year. Sylvia Fowles finished the game with eight blocked shots which was a career high in blocks for Fowles.
However, neither accomplishment is particularly noteworthy in shot-blocking. Many WNBA players have blocked four shots in a quarter, and Lisa Leslie and Margo Dydek each hold the record for most blocked shots in a game, with ten.
* The 50 percent shooting (32-for-64) for Atlanta was a season high.
* Coco Miller did not play due to a sprained ankle suffered in practice. All in all, the Dream's victory rested on the backs of seven players: Miller and Lyttle were bench-bound due to injuries, and Shalee Lehning and Sandora Irvin played for a combined six minutes.
* WNBA legend Lisa Leslie attended the game. "She was our good luck charm," Angel McCoughtry said. "I was so happy she came. She really helped us tonight. Just seeing her brought something out of us."
* Regarding Yelena Leuchanka - Meadors spoke to her on July 15th. According to Meadors, Leuchanka has an inflamed ankle and Meadors does not know if she will be playing for the Dream any time this season. "We have to prepare to move on, and that's what we'll do."