(ATLANTA) – The 2011 Dream are a tale of two different teams. The first team was a 3-9 team beset by injuries and was desperately looking for an emergency repair with whatever spare parts were available. The second team has gone 10-3 since then, with a 94-88 overtime victory over visiting Connecticut putting Atlanta into a situation they haven't been in since last year - a state where the team has more season wins than it does losses.
In order to get that win, the Dream had to dig themselves out of a double-digit third quarter deficit. "We played better defense in the third quarter," Atlanta Dream head coach Marynell Meadors said. "Once we did that, we started getting some transition baskets. That's our game. We're trying to score off our defense and we were able to do that."
"The turnover defense killed us tonight," Connecticut head coach Mike Thibault said. "Our 21 turnovers gave them 25 points, whereas their twelve turnovers gave us only two points. That is the biggest win of the game."
Atlanta hoped to push the ball from the opening whistle, but Connecticut was more than willing to take the Dream up on their running game. Dream forward Sancho Lyttle scored six of the Dream’s first eight points but the Sun had a 3-point game that kept the Dream from delivering an early knockout blow, and the Sun took a 10-8 lead by the middle of the first. Atlanta responded later in the quarter with an 8-0 run and it was touch and go from there, with the Dream hanging on to a 22-21 lead at the break. Lyttle led all players with eight first-quarter points.
The Dream took a defensive nap to start the second, with Connecticut taking a 30-24 lead almost before Atlanta could notice. A time-out by Dream head coach Marynell Meadors couldn’t stop the Sun from taking a 35-26 lead off a 3-pointer by guard Kara Lawson. Connecticut put their muscle on Atlanta guard/forward Angel McCoughtry and Atlanta’s attempts to match Connecticut’s play resulted in the Sun being in the bonus with three minutes left in the half. By the time the first half was over McCoughtry had three fouls, Sun center Tina Charles had 15 points and eight rebounds and Connecticut led by 14 at one point. The Dream were fortunate to be down by nine, 50-41 at halftime.
The Sun were 7-for-7 at the free throw line in the second quarter. Sun guard Renee Montgomery had seven points and seven assists in the first half, and Connecticut dominated the Dream on the boards 29-17 in overall rebounding. As for Sancho Lyttle, she was held scoreless in the second quarter.
The previous night, the Sun had melted down in a game against the New York Liberty, blowing an 18-point lead - and it looked like the Sun were ready to let it happen again. Connecticut put Atlanta in the bonus with not even five minutes gone in the third – and the Sun’s inability to hang on to the ball didn’t help. A 13-point Sun lead evaporated and Charles disappeared as the Dream cut the Sun’s lead to two on a long jumper by McCoughtry, 57-55. Dream center Erika de Souza had a chance to tie it but missed both free throws, but tied it 59-59 on lay-up with an assist by Sancho Lyttle. A jumper by Harding gave the Dream their first lead since the first quarter, but Harding wasn’t done yet – she scored five more points in the third quarter as the Dream held on to a 69-68 lead behind Harding’s nine third-quarter points.
What happened to Tina Charles, who was held the scoreless the entire second half? "Erika de Souza," Meadors said. "Bottom line. She played great defense on her in the second half. The first half I thought she played really well, but Tina was just hitting her shots. Also in the second half, Erika was playing great defense but we did a lot of digging in on Tina and caused her to mishandle the ball a little bit." Charles would have six second-half turnovers.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the scoreboard barely budged. The two teams remained separated by a single basket with Connecticut ahead 76-73 at the halfway mark. The Sun held a 78-75 lead with 2:27 left. In those last two minutes the Sun committed three turnovers and Atlanta missed four shots before Lyttle hit only the second 3-pointer of her career with 12.2 seconds left to tie the game 78-78.
"She's Ms. Clutch," Meadors said. "Let me tell you, in Washington she made the baseline jumper to win the game and then tonight, she made the 3-pointer to put it into overtime. I thought - especially that shot at that time - gave us momentum and gave us a spark. And then, we knew we were going to win the game because we were going to play harder than they were."
Connecticut had the final possession with guard Allison Hightower attempting a 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left, but McCoughtry blocked the attempt to send the game into overtime.
"I was just thinking let me get out here so I can contest this shot," McCoughtry said. "And I did."
In the extra period, Atlanta got the first basket and held onto the lead throughout. The closest Connecticut could get was to within two points, but were forced to foul in an attempt to send Atlanta to the line to break the lead. But with Connecticut unable to force a turnover, the Sun were sent to their second straight overtime defeat on back-to-back nights.
"We got stops on defense and good looks on baskets," McCoughtry said. "In the end it was about who got the most stops on defense, and that was us."
"Both teams played really good defense," Thibault said. "They just beat us at it in overtime."
Four of Atlanta's five starters scored in double-digits. Angel McCoughtry led the way with 26 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals. Erika de Souza accounted for the second double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Lindsey Harding had 21 points and five assists, and Sancho Lyttle scored 20 points and five rebounds.
For Connecticut, Asjha Jones led all scorers with 21 points and nine rebounds. Tina Charles had 15 points and 11 rebounds total, and Tan White added 14 points off the bench. Forward Kelsey Griffin added 11 rebounds in 11 minutes of play.
Connecticut will get its next rematch against the Dream on Sunday, this time in Uncasville. "We will go back and watch film to find things we can do better," Thibault said. "Hopefully having the home court advantage will help us a little bit. But we will go back and get some rest and recharge for Sunday."
* Atlanta's win puts them at 13-12 and in fourth place for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference if the season ended today. They are two games ahead of fifth-place Chicago. The Dream's WNBA Finals opponent in 2010, Seattle, is also at 13-12 and in fourth place in the West.
* This was Erika de Souza's ninth double-double of the season.
* In Connecticut's history of visits to Atlanta, the only time the Sun have beaten the Dream was on August 27, 2008. That loss dropped the Dream to 3-25 for the year; Atlanta would finish 4-30 in its inaugural season.
* The Dream might have had a shot of an extra game on its road trip. Wins against Seattle and Los Angeles were impressive, but according to Meadors the Dream had a shot against Phoenix. "Probably if we'd had one more day we'd have been able to give Phoenix a better game then what we did."
* Regarding Angel McCoughtry's recent performance: "If anybody knows the game," Meadors said, "they notice that they're sending two and three people at her all the time. I think what we're trying to get Angel to see is her teammates, and she's doing a good job right now of finding open players."