In the three games the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky played before last night’s meeting at the McCamish Pavilion in Atlanta, the rule was that the home team wins. With the Dream at the top of the Eastern Conference and Chicago fighting for relevance among the rest of the conference there was no reason to expect anything different. However, a great first quarter start from Chicago gave the Sky enough of a push to hold back a fourth quarter comeback from Atlanta and steal an 79-75 road victory.
The Sky managed the win despite 24 turnovers. "There are a lot of things we need to clean up and correct," Chicago head coach Pokey Chatman said. "We obviously turned the basketball over a lot, but the fact that we could shoot almost 54 percent against a very aggressive team was good."
In the two games that Dream head coach Michael Cooper has been treated for tongue cancer, both have been losses. "I think the obvious thing was the way we came out and we left our defense in the locker room," Atlanta assistant head coach Karleen Thompson said. "We started off in a hole, a deep hole, against a good team. You can’t start off like that against any team in this league. You can’t look at the record. we have to play everyone as if they had a winning record."
Chicago took an early lead and successfully closed the door to the lane, with Sky center Sylvia Fowles having little problem handling Dream center Erika de Souza. Dream forward Sancho Lyttle’s shots from the left elbow – a favorite spot on the floor for her – weren’t falling. The Dream had three turnovers in the first few minutes and whenever a Dream player got close to the basket it seemed as if there were two Chicago players waiting. The only Sky player failing to score in a quarter where Atlanta had seven turnovers was reserve center Sasha Goodlett and Chicago held a dominant 26-10 lead after one quarter. With Dream forward Angel McCoughtry having four of those turnovers, it threatened to be a long night.
The second quarter began with both sides trading baskets – and with the Sky shooting 68.8 percent in the first quarter, this was no path to a victory. Chicago kept up the hot hand for most of the quarter, but with the Sky up 40-22 Atlanta found a 7-0 run, with Thompson digging down in the bench to give Dream guard Matee Ajavon some time (and a basket). The Dream’s turnover woes continued with Atlanta adding eight turnovers and Chicago finishing the half with 63.3 percent shooting (19-for-30) to hold a 43-29 advantage at halftime.
Tamera Young led all players at halftime with 10 points. Dream reserve forward Aneika Henry kept Atlanta in the game with seven points in the second quarter, but McCoughtry and Dream point guard Shoni Schimmel combined for 9 turnovers.
Chicago looked rough in the third quarter but a 6-0 run put Chicago back up 49-33. Atlanta could take no advantages of any Chicago weaknesses. Dream guard Tiffany Hayes goes 6-for-6 at the stripe? So does Sky guard Allie Quigley. It was a quarter where both sides tried very hard, but the Dream continued with stupid errors – bounce passes off the foot, passes to players not expecting one. Dumerc’s final shot of the third quarter was a miss, and both teams had run in place for ten minutes, the Sky up 61-47 with 10 minutes to go.
The fourth quarter, however, gave Dream fans hope. Down 66-52 with eight minutes left, point guard Celine Dumerc hit the first 3-pointer of the night for Atlanta, followed by another long bomb by Hayes. Erika de Souza’s put-back layup closed the gap to 66-62 and Chicago called time out. The Dream would keep building a 14-0 run which tied the game at 66-66 with five minutes left.
Chicago answered with two 3-point attempts, a miss by Allie Quigley and a strike by guard Epipphany Prince. Even with the Dream in foul trouble, Chicago was barely keeping its head above water. Ahead by three, 76-73, with 50 seconds left, Tiffany Hayes missed a 3-point shot that would have tied it. A similar situation faced Atlanta with their last play of the game, the Sky up 78-75 with 15.8 seconds left and needing a 3-pointer to tie.
The goal was to isolate point guard Shoni Schimmel with for the final shot – but Schimmel missed. "We all thought it was going in," Tiffany Hayes said. "She came off the bench for that that purpose – that is her shot. That is what she does."
Chicago got the rebound, and the game was theirs.
Five players scored in double figures for the Sky, led by Epipphany Prince with 21 points. Sylvia Fowles added a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
For Atlanta, forward Sancho Lyttle and Tiffany Hayes led the team with 15 points each, with nine of Lyttle’s points coming in the fourth quarter. Celine Dumerc scored 10 points and five assists on the Dream’s French Night celebration, a season high in points.
Despite their month-long slump, the Sky still believe. "I think that if we just always come out with the same levels of intensity and energy, with the same focus that we’ve had in the last three games," Epipphany Prince said, "then we could do some things."
* The Dream lose their third straight game. The last time the Dream lost three straight games is when they were swept in the WNBA Finals last season against Minnesota.
* Atlanta scored 29 first half points, the lowest first half total for Atlanta this season.
* Erika de Souza scored blocks #299, #300 and #301 in this game. She is 16th all-time in the WNBA in blocked shots.
Assistant coach Karleen Thompson full opening statement: "First off, I think the obvious thing was that, just the way we came out. We left our defense in the locker room. We started off in a hole, a deep hole against a good team. You can’t start like that against any team in this league. We can’t look at the record. We have to play everyone as if it’s a winning record.
I’m proud of the way that we pulled it together, come back and fought a hard fight but we are not happy with this and we’re not okay with it. And it’s a good thing, because they know what type of team they are, they know what they’re capable of doing. They know who has put in and set that foundation, and it’s based on our defense. So we have to go back to the drawing board on our defense, just basic defense, and come out and play hard versus Washington.
Thompson on what was wrong with the defense: "I think Chicago just came out and played hard. They were physical, they rotated well. They played good defense and caused some turnovers. We had some unforced turnovers, but I’m not going to take anything from Pokey and her team. They came in to get a win and they did whatever it took. We just have to come out and play 40 minutes of Dream basketball. Focus, keep our composure, play through everything and play hard."
Thompson on the Dream’s 14-0 run in the 4th quarter: "I think that what they did well was that they turned up that defense, committed to the defense, caused some turnovers and executed well in the half court. And then, they saw they could run and took advantage of that and we started rebounding."
Thompson on that last shot by Shoni Schimmel: was it off-balance? "Shoni hits those. That’s off-balance to you and everyone else looking at it, but that’s Shoni’s shot. Everybody on the team is confident in Shoni. We would all be okay with Shoni taking that shot again."
Thompson on Aneika Henry’s game: "Aneika stepped up big for us. She was committed to get out there and rebound and play D. She’s a big post that we knew could handle Sylvia, to put a big strong body against another strong body. She’s always ready to go, whether she’s playing 2 minutes or 20 minutes. I’m happy for her on that part."
Thompson on the first quarter: "I think we were just rushing a lot and playing in panic mode when we saw the score. They were scoring, but we had to focus on our defense and that’s what we let slip away. We just dug ourselves a hole and we had to play out of it."
Thompson on Coach Michael Cooper’s condition: "Coop is doing great. Everything went well. He’s going to make a full recovery. We’re ready for him to come back, of course. I know him, he’s not ever going to be not thinking about his team. We’ll see him [Sunday]….he just had [his operation]. He’s doing good. I’ve talked to his wife, Yvonne."
Thompson’s conversation with Angel McCoughtry on the sideline with two minutes left – what was she telling Angel? "Just to stay focused and not get frustrated. Just play hard. She’s a leader, and just take hold of the team. Just play hard, stay focused. She’s a tough competitor. She gets frustrated just like everyone else but she was able to stay focused, and she gave what she could give."
Sky head coach Pokey Chatman on the need to be aggressive: "We didn’t let their aggressiveness stop us from attacking the basket, which resulted in 25 free throws. That’s something we talked about coming in. One other thing is, I like seeing 21 assists on 28 field goals. Granted, we have a lot of stuff to clean up, but it was nice to get a win against the best team in the East."
Epipphany Prince on the Sky’s performance: "My teammates just set me good screens and I was just able to read the defense. Me and [Jessica] Breland always play a good pick-and-roll, and I was able to get some open looks and penetrate and attack the basket, or hit her. I think today we came out aggressive and it started with Sylvia and Tamera [Young] anchoring it for us, and we all fed off of their energy, and we got some crucial stops."