For the Memorial Day weekend, the Atlanta Dream decided to give the fans who watched the Dream play the Indiana Fever a gift – some free basketball. After a fourth quarter where only 12 points were scored by both teams, Atlanta hoped to give their fans a holiday win, but six unanswered points by the Fever in overtime boosted Indiana to an 82-77 overtime victory.
Those overtime points were facilitated by Fever center Erlana Larkins. "Warrior. I can’t say enough. If we had two or three more of her, we’d be playing for a championship every time we play because she is the ultimate warrior," Indiana head coach Lin Dunn said of Larkins, whose 22 rebounds set an Indiana franchise record.
"I thought that fatigue caught up with us a little bit," Atlanta head coach Michael Cooper said. "But you can’t use that as an excuse, because all teams go through it. It’s a good thing that we got our back-to-backs out of the way. We’ve got two more coming up, but now we get a good three or four days to work on some things. I thought our pick and roll defense got better. We’ll shore up some other areas, and we’re going to be okay."
Indiana (0-3) was looking for its first victory of the year on the road. The Dream led early on but a pair of back-to-back three pointers by Indiana guard Sydney Carter and guard/forward Karima Christmas put Indiana back in the lead. Three-point shooting would be a key to the Fever win in a game that saw 15 lead changes, with Carter going 2-for-3 behind the arc in the first quarter alone and the Fever finishing 6-for-18 on the night.
Atlanta’s shooting was very good for most of the game, but defensively they were a different story. The Dream gave up a 9-0 run to Indiana early in the second with forward Swin Cash substituting for forward Angel McCoughtry. (Cash would be subbed out for McCoughtry and not return.) Despite 50 percent shooting, the Dream struggled, with Atlanta center Erika de Souza getting caught with two three defensive three second technical fouls in the quarter. Indiana held a 39-35 advantage at halftime.
Dream rookie point guard Shoni Schimmel had just one field goal attempt in 10 minutes of play at halftime and only three assists. She finished the game with eight assists and five turnovers, with just four points scored.
"Shoni was trying to do a little too much," Cooper said. "She may be a rookie, but she’s trying to do the right things. Her passes over the top were a little off, so maybe she needs to take it to the lane more. Other than that, she played pretty good."
"I thought we did a much better job guarding Shoni Schimmel tonight than we did at our place with that two-overtime game," Dunn said.
The Dream came out strong in the third quarter and found a 6-0 run that gave them the lead again, but Atlanta’s woes continued. In one sequence during a 6-0 Fever run, Atlanta guard Matee Ajavon missed a point blank one-on-zero fast break layup, was whistled for an offensive foul, and then a defensive foul. Dream guard Jasmine Thomas kept Atlanta in the game with 11 points in the third quarter.
Both teams spun their wheels in the mud in the final 10 minutes. The Fever set a franchise low in points scored in a quarter with just four fourth quarter points. Atlanta wasn’t much better, but a long three by McCoughtry with 4:08 left put the Dream up 68-66. A driving layup by Fever guard Briann January tied it at 68-68 with two minutes left, and no other points would be scored. Michael Cooper was handicapped in that the Dream had no time outs and he couldn’t burn one to advance the ball in the final minutes, and the game ended 68-68 in regulation.
"I just thought we could have won the game in regulation if we’d hit our free throws," Dunn said. "When went into overtime, we’d already missed 10 free throws. We’re not doing a good job of taking care of business when it comes to the free throw line."
The opening minutes of the overtime highlighted the efforts of Fever center Erlana Larkins. After the opening tip to Sydney Carter, Larkins rushed to Indiana’s basket with the opening layup. She would add two rebounds in the first 1:16 of the overtime, which led to four more Indiana points. Atlanta, lacking in energy, would never regain the lead.
"We were fatigued late, there was no doubt about it," Shoni Schimmel said. "They got off to that great start in the overtime period, and we cannot allow that."
"I thought we were more fresh," Dunn said. "I thought we need to keep attacking, keep pushing the ball because they’ve played a back-to-back. I thought that was important for us, to keep the tempo up and keep attacking."
Four players would finish in double digits for the Dream – McCoughtry (19), Sancho Lyttle (15), de Souza (14 with 9 rebounds), and Thomas (17). However, Atlanta’s bench would only score six points and Dream guard Tiffany Hayes would be held scoreless over 27 minutes of play.
Briann January led the Fever with 16 points, and Sydney Carter scored 14 – a career-high in points for Carter. Indiana Forward Natasha Howard would add 12 points in the Dream’s victory, but Larkins’s 13 points and 22 rebounds were a career high in rebounds for her, and served as an answer to Sancho Lyttle’s 21 rebounds in the Dream’s victory over the Fever on May 17th.
"I think I had an all-around pretty decent game once it picked up in the beginning," Larkins said. "I had a few missed shots around the basket. But I was just determined to be a contributor today, give it all I had, and not let another one slip through our fingers because we let Atlanta take one from us in overtime. The mission was to come out, be effective, and hold on to a win."
Jasmine Thomas’s 17 points were two points short of her career high.
Points off turnovers: Indiana 27, Atlanta 15.
Matee Ajavon and Swin Cash are a combined 4-for-26 over four games this year.
Angel McCoughtry on the status of her shoulder: "I felt good for the most part, but my shoulder is still hurting."
Lin Dunn on Angel McCoughty: "I thought we did as good a job as we could do on Angel. She’s a difficult person for us to deal with."
Michael Cooper on fatigue: "I think a little bit of the wear and tear of last night caught up with us, especially in the later half. When you’ve got a player – and we did it to them in Indiana with Sancho – when you have a player dominate the boards like that, it’s going to be tough to win some games."
Michael Cooper on what he expects to improve on in practice before Seattle: "A kick-ass mentality, boxing out on the boards, and build up some nastiness. We’re going to have that by the time we see Seattle, so poor them."
Michael Cooper on the Dream defense: "I think our defense needs to shore up on all areas, from the perimeter to the inside, and from the inside back out. We did a good job of that compared what we did the last time we played this team, as well as in Chicago. It’s only going to get better. We’ve got three good days we’re going to practice. We’ll be okay."