(ATLANTA) – With off-the-court drama taking center stage and the status of their star player questionable, Atlanta Dream fans had reason to worry about a three game stretch of games against the best teams in the East and West.
But it looks like Atlanta’s worries might be behind them, as the Dream defeated the visiting Indiana Fever with the help of a season-high 20 points from point guard Lindsey Harding in a well-played 71-64 victory.
"Overall, I think we played good ball," Atlanta Dream head coach Fred Williams said. "We ran when we needed to. We got some points in the paint and we got some fast break points when we needed to. With them staying in that zone, it caused a little confusion for us until we worked some kinks out of that.
"I think overall the biggest difference in the game was in the boards and their second-chance points," Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings said, referring to the 28 second-chance points from the Dream. "They came out really aggressive and attacked us from the offensive end and we just couldn’t handle it."
The game started with Angel McCoughtry on the bench, leaving fans to wonder when she’d see action. The Dream started slow and Atlanta forward Tiffany Hayes started slow, going 1-for-5 in the first quarter as Indiana took the lead. McCoughtry came in with 4:52 left in the first but could not provide a lift as the Indiana defense held the Dream to 22 percent shooting as they took a 16-10 lead at the end of the quarter.
The Dream continued to struggle in the second quarter, unable to bust out of their shooting slump. A burst of six straight points could be considered a scoring run for the Fever in a low-shooting game and the Fever led 25-17 with 5:14 to go in the second. Dream guard Armintie Price picked up her third foul with 2:08 left in the half, and a pair of free throws by Fever guard/forward Katie Douglas put Indiana up 32-21. But Hayes and McCoughtry gave Atlanta a second wind, scoring six points in under two minutes to close Atlanta to 32-29 by halftime.
McCoughtry led the Dream with 11 points at the half followed by Hayes and Dream forward Sancho Lyttle with six points each – Lyttle also had eight rebounds. Katie Douglas led Indiana with 12 points, shooting 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Indiana forward Tamika Catchings had four points and six rebounds in the first half.
Indiana would not rest easy. In the third quarter the combination of Lyttle and Dream center Erika de Souza made their presence felt with their offensive rebounding, continuing a 16-2 run by Atlanta to take a 37-34 lead before Indiana called a time out.
"Sancho really elevated and also Erika," Williams said. "We wanted to get some quick outlets and get some runs."
The Dream kept the lead through their muscle but Katie Douglas hit three consecutive 3-pointers to put the Fever back up 45-42 with 2:06 to go in the third.
"We started seeing some nightmares of the game we had with her up there, where she shot 7 of 9 from three on us," Williams said. "But she’s an awesome player."
With Sancho Lyttle shaken up and off the court after colliding with Catchings, the Fever forward scored five points in the last minute of the third to put Indiana up 52-48 with ten to go.
Atlanta switched to a man defense to start the fourth. It seemed to do the trick with a drive by Tiffany Hayes tying the game at 54-54 and taking a 57-56 lead for Atlanta on a fast break. Atlanta moved the ball very well in the fourth quarter and maintained their lead, with four of Indiana’s six second-half turnovers coming in the final quarter. Douglas missed four three-point attempts and Dream point guard Lindsey Harding scored 12 fourth quarter points to lead the Dream to the win.
"They attacked us. We got in foul trouble," Indiana Fever head coach Lin Dunn said. "We weren’t defending the dribble-drive well and we were not boxing out. They got an offensive rebound on a free throw. So we have to give Atlanta credit because they wanted it more than we did. And I thought at the end of the day Lindsey Harding just took over the game and really won the game for them. But the bottom line is, if you don’t rebound, you don’t win."
Harding led all Atlanta players with 20 points. Three other Atlanta players scored in double figures, including Sancho Lyttle with 12 points and 12 rebounds. For Indiana, Douglas led all scorers with 23 points and Tamika Catchings scored 13 points and nine rebounds in a losing effort.
* After the game, former Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt addressed the Atlanta crowd as part of "We Back Pat" Night.
* The Dream would finish the game with 1-for-16 free three point shooting. Of Indiana’s six three-pointers made, Katie Douglas hit five of them.
* This is the second consecutive game that Angel McCoughtry has come off the bench in both the first half and the second half. (It seems to be working for the Dream.) The last game that McCoughtry started was an 86-72 road victory over Indiana on August 18, 2012.
* The season series concludes with Indiana winning three of the five matchups.
How Sancho Lyttle got hurt against Tamika Catchings? Fred Williams didn’t know, but did state that Lyttle was wearing an ice pack after the game.
Fred Williams on the smaller three-guard lineup: "It gives us a little bit more penetration around the perimeter. Depending on what players I put in there I can get a skip pass for a three. It always keeps the opponents a little bit off balance, because I’m trying to make them match down to our substitution pattern."
Fred Williams on the post Angel McCoughtry drama: "I think overall, with change and everything it takes a little while to really settle in and stay focused. My main thing was to lock the doors of the gym and it was all about the Atlanta Dream, and nobody else."