(ATLANTA) – Coming off a depressing loss to New York on its own court - and facing a five-game road trip - the Dream needed a win against the visiting Storm.
It looked like an uphill struggle, since Seattle was in second place in the Western Conference and had beaten Atlanta in their previous six meetings. It might have been Seattle's to win, but the Dream forced the Storm into 27 turnovers on the way to a 70-53 victory at Philips Arena.
"That was probably one of the best team wins that we've had," Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors said. "We led from start to finish. I think they led one time by two points and the most we lead by was 21 [points]. I thought that it was a great team win, I thought that everybody made some valuable contributions. I thought the players that had to make stops on defense did, and I have to point out that Lindsey Harding held Sue Bird to two points, and [Bird] had six turnovers, and I thought that was the key."
Seattle head coach Brian Agler knew that the 27 turnovers doomed the Storm. "We had 16 turnovers in the first half, ten of those in the first quarter. We are not a team that can overcome some of that. For us to play well, we have to be efficient with the basketball."
The first quarter was marked by the return of forward Sancho Lyttle and guard/forward Angel McCoughtry to the starting lineup, but it was the Dream’s defense that made an impact as the Dream set the defensive tempo with four quick steals. Atlanta was determined to run on the Storm and the Dream cruised quickly to a 14-5 lead with Lyttle looking very much like her old self. Seattle appeared determined to match the Dream inside for the first part of the quarter, but switched up to a perimeter game in the hope of finding their rhythm - without much luck. Seattle remained stung, giving up the ball ten times in the first quarter as Atlanta led 19-10 at the end of the first.
Sancho Lyttle was glad to be back. "It feels good. I was told yesterday that I was going to start, so I knew I just wanted to come out with full energy. That was my full focus for today's game. But even when I am not in the starting lineup I go out there and play as hard as I can play."
"She's always talking to her teammates," Meadors said about Lyttle. "And making sure everybody's in the right place - and if somebody's not in the right place, she'll cover up for them. She's a great help defender."
With a good head start, the Dream could afford to give their starters a rest and expanded the lead to 24-12 with the bench on the court for the first three minutes of the second quarter. Atlanta led 28-14 and the game hit a dead zone for almost three minutes where neither team could find the basket. Atlanta remained on top, but guard Arminite Price injured her ankle on a fast-break with 29.6 seconds left in the half, casting a pall over Atlanta’s 34-22 halftime lead.
Seattle had 16 turnovers in the first half and hit only one of every three shots they attempted. The Storm were shut out on the offensive glass, with all 12 Seattle rebounds earned on defense. Angel McCoughtry led all first-half scorers with nine points and Armintie Price had eight points and four assists.
"Coco Miller stepped in and really picked up that slack and played really well for us," Meadors said regarding the absence of Price in the second half. "But Armintie was absolutely outstanding that first half."
Atlanta maintained their defensive pressure at the beginning of the second half, forcing Seattle into another eight third-quarter turnovers. While Armintie Price sat on the bench with her ankle in wrapped ice, the Dream made as many baskets - ten - as the Storm attempted. A bucket by Seattle forward Swin Cash – plus free throw – and a drive by guard Katie Smith closed the gap to 55-39 at the end of the third.
Could the Dream blow a 16-point lead with ten minutes left? Atlanta turned in a 5-for-15 quarter performance but Seattle was not much better. Storm guard Sue Bird only played two and a half-minutes of the final quarter, contributing only an extra turnover to her team's effort, her sixth of the day. Atlanta had little to fear.
Seattle finished the game with 27 turnovers. They didn't score their first offensive rebound of the game until two minutes into the fourth quarter.
Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry led all scorers with 17 points. Center Erika de Souza scored 13 points and seven rebounds, and Coco Miller contributed 10 points and four rebounds. Point guard Lindsey Harding had nine points and seven assists.
For Seattle, Sue Bird was held to just two points - and six turnovers - in 20 minutes of play. Swin Cash led the Storm with 16 points, and Katie Smith added 11 points and six rebounds.
The Storm are still holding their heads up. "It wasn't a superb effort," Swin Cash said. "We didn't take care of the basketball or execute. I love the fact that we're a team that's mature enough to learn from our mistakes and prepare for the next game."
* According to a commentator on NBA-TV's Minnesota vs. Los Angeles game, the X-rays on Price were negative.
* Seattle's 27 turnovers is not a team record. The most turnovers in a Storm game is 28, against Indiana in 2006 and against Atlanta in a double-overtime game in 2009.
* The Storm's two offensive rebounds ties the team record for fewest offensive rebounds. The other two dismal nights on the boards were performances against Los Angeles in 2000 and against Detroit in 2008.
* Atlanta's win against the Storm is the first win against Seattle in almost two years. The only other win by the Dream against Seattle took place on August 15, 2009 in an 88-79 victory at Philips Arena.
* The win brings the Dream to 9-11 on the year. Atlanta has 14 games left in the season, but only five of those are at home and three of those are within four days of each other in September.
* When asked about the potential for fatigue during Atlanta's long road exile, Meadors stated that for the upcoming game against Washington on Tuesday that the Dream shall not hold a practice session on Monday morning. There will be a shoot around in Washington. "As hard as [the Dream] played today, I couldn't bring them back at 10 o'clock in the morning. They need their rest."
* Regarding Shalee Lehning: when asked whether or not Lehning - out for the season with an ACL tear - could possibly be suspended for the season as a roster move that would allow the Dream to bring in a replacement point guard, Meadors said, "She will be with us. We will play with ten. And if we get some more injuries, then we might have to make a different decision. But right now, we're not going to bring anybody else in."