Walking into Philips Arena last night, there was a palpable big game feeling in the atmosphere.
Maybe it was the fact that you had Congressman John Lewis -- renowned for his involvement in the Civil Rights movement -- at the game.
Or maybe it was because WNBA President Laurel Richie was also in town.
Or maybe it was Los Angeles Sparks rookie Nneka Ogwumike putting on a dunking show during pre-game warm-ups; it was obvious that this game had the ingredients to be unique.
Or maybe it was All-Star Candace Parker's near-triple double performance against the Connecticut Sun - 33 points, 16 rebounds and 8 assists - in which she led her team in all four categories that night.
To top it off, the visiting Sparks were coming into town with a 7-1 record and on a five game winning streak against an inconsistent Dream team, which many suspected would be forced to take a loss against former Dream assistant Carol Ross' new team. Underlying the electric atmosphere was an expectation that it wasn’t a matter of if something special would happen, but what?
Not only did the Dream respond, they completely overwhelmed the Sparks with a resounding 92-59 victory in their most complete game of the year.“Well I really think that was one of our goals, to play four quarters tonight,” said Dream coach Marynell Meadors. “We’ve had a good first quarter, a good second quarter, a good third quarter and a good fourth but we haven’t put everything together.
“We’ve had two good quarters at times then other times we haven’t scored in the fourth quarter. We didn’t score a whole lot of points tonight in the fourth but we had a tremendous lead so I was really proud of everybody who made some really good contributions.”
From the outset, the Dream seemed to be the aggressors as they were constantly attacking at every vantage point. Even with Angel McCoughtry not starting because of violation of team rules, they were relentless in every aspect of the game as they raced out to an early lead. But once McCoughtry entered the game at the 7:19 mark, things went from bad to worse for the Sparks.
McCoughtry went on her own personal run as she scored 9 points in less than three minutes into the game. With McCoughtry scoring at will and the Dream's intensity, they led 28-12 after one quarter and by halftime the lead was 19 points, 47-28
“We got off to an absolutely slow start,” said Parker. “It’s almost like we got punched in the face. We didn’t know what to do. Atlanta came out with a lot of aggression and energy whereas we didn’t.”
But Atlanta has been sort of an enigma this season as they have gotten off to amazing starts and huge leads only to squander them away -- most notably in their overtime loss to the Chicago Sky. However in the second half, the Dream seemed to make a conscious effort in not letting up as they sustained their onslaught by scoring the first six points of the second half.
Nevertheless - and perhaps emblematic of the goal to play four quarters - there was a moment in the game when it looked like the Sparks were going to mount one last push to get back into the game.
With 3:44 left in the third quarter, Parker scored to cut the Dream lead to nineteen but McCoughtry (game-high 31 points) immediately responded with a three pointer that seemed to finally kill the will of the Sparks.
“[Three point shooting] isn’t my game but I’ll tell you my little secret,” said McCoughtry. “Last night I shot a thousand shots, so I was ready. It helps but when you go in there and just get on that Kobe/LeBron status it makes a difference.
“We haven’t been winning the way we’ve been wanting to, when we came out tonight, we just jelled. We played really well tonight”
By the end of the third quarter, both teams seemed resolute about what the final outcome of this game would be.
“I was hoping coming out in the second half we would play hard, but we didn’t,” said Sparks head coach Carol Ross. “Atlanta was tremendous on both ends of the court. They came out with a lot of focus and intensity, whereas we did not.
“Clearly I didn’t have this team ready to play.”