It’s rare that a team will score 60 of its points "in the paint", the rectangle on the court made up by the free throw line and the baseline. The last time a WNBA team dusted its opponents in such a way was on August 25, 2013 when Los Angeles beat Tulsa with 60 points in the paint – and that was the most points in the paint by any team in the 2013 season. The WNBA doesn’t keep such records, but if it did the Atlanta Dreams’s 68 points in the paint against the Los Angeles Sparks last night would certainly be a contender as the Dream beat visiting LA 93-85.
Dream center Erika de Souza led the way with 27 points and 11 rebounds, tying her career record in game points. "The team has some excellent post players and we expected this game to be won or lost in the paint and it was," Los Angeles head coach Carol Ross said. "Unfortunately we had no answers to de Souza and Sancho [Lyttle]. We just weren’t able to either physically get it done or we had the wrong plan."
"We gave up 68 points in the paint," Los Angeles forward Candace Parker said. "That has to be a WNBA record. They were 34 for 46, you’re not going to beat anyone giving that up.
The first half of the game was a battle of post players. Atlanta got off to a shaky start with seven first-quarter turnovers, three which belonged to new Dream point guard Celine Dumerc. This was Dumerc’s first game after arriving in the United States on Sunday. De Souza hadn’t scored at all in the first quarter, and it looked like Los Angeles might have the upper hand with the Sparks taking a 23-18 lead after the first period.
But Atlanta controlled the ball much better in the second quarter, giving up just two turnovers, and the Dream scored 20 points in the paint in the second quarter alone. De Souza was getting warmed up, playing the full quarter and changing a second quarter Sparks lead of seven to a halftime Dream lead of three, 46-43. Dream forward Swin Cash gave Angel McCoughtry a rest and even though she didn’t fill the box scores, she played tough defense when called upon.
Dream head coach Michael Cooper thought that parts of the third quarter were some of the best basketball the Dream had played all year. Dream point guard Shoni Schimmel provided offensive energy, guard Tiffany Hayes stepped up with energy of her own in key moments and Atlanta played the slash-and-burn style with 22 points in the paint in the third quarter with almost every bucket a drive to the basket – and if the ball didn’t go in, de Souza was almost guaranteed to make an offensive rebound.
With the Dream leading 75-65 going into the final ten minutes, they had to overcome a couple of hurdles. The Dream were momentarily perplexed by the Sparks’ 2-3 zone. Dream guard/forward Angel McCoughtry fouled out with 3:59 left in the game and the Sparks closed to 85-82 with 3:02 left. Atlanta passed the test, making key defensive stops. Schimmel and de Souza scored again, and Dream forward Sancho Lyttle hit the final four free throws to seal the victory.
Sparks center Jantel Lavender led her team with 21 points, shooting 10-for-15. Forward Nneka Ogwumike added 19 points and two-time MVP Candace Parker scored 15 points and had seven assists.
Four players scored in double-figures for Atlanta. In addition to de Souza’s 27 points, Sancho Lyttle scored 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Dream’s second double-double of the night. McCoughtry added 18 points and starting point guard Jasmine Thomas scored 10. Shoni Schimmel would score nine points and have seven assists.
"This is clearly our worst game," Ross said regarding the Sparks’ defensive woes. " It’s been tough. We’ve been gritty and making plays on the defensive end and forcing turnover, but tonight that wasn’t the case." Ross said that the Sparks will have to solve their problems soon – Chicago and Minnesota are coming up.
This was Atlanta’s 5th straight victory over the Sparks. Atlanta is 5-2 against the Sparks at home in franchise history.
The Dream are 21-5 in their last 26 regular-season games at Philips Arena.
Michael Cooper on the Sparks’ post game: "We wanted to double team their low posts because they’re so quick and effective down there, and when we ran our double teams, we got a turnover."
Cooper on the Dream’s excellent third quarter: "I know we can play better than this. That’s the enjoyable part with these ladies, they’re learning a new system, and I knew it wasn’t just going to be an overnight wonder."
Cooper on Angel McCoughtry’s offensive role: "The one thing I tried to tell Angel when we first got here is that she has to understand – players aren’t just going to let you beat them. We’ve been working on her passing vision and at times in the offense using her as a decoy."
Cooper on the arrival of Celine Dumerc: "The good thing now is that we have two or three days of practice, so she can get familiar. I really like what she did on the floor, just stepping into the WNBA. I expect big things from her."