Atlanta, GA -- Reshanda Gray, beating her career high, tied with Angel McCoughtry for 18 points to lead their team to a 90-77 defeat against the Connecticut Sun.
"I'm really proud of our team, we played hard, we played smart, and we stuck to our goals," Gray stated.
Jennifer Lacy led the Sun with 21 points followed by Camille Little with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Although four of Connecticut's starters scored in the double digits, the Dream's ability to rely on their bench is what ultimately landed them the win.
Atlanta has received 20 or more points from its bench in each of their last 10 games, a pattern that not only continued, but excelled Sunday afternoon. Atlanta's bench provided 39 of their overall points, while the Sun's bench contributed a mere 13 points.
Kelsey Bone, who averages 15 points a game this season, was held at just one point in the first half and eight points overall.
"Atlanta sent multiple bodies, which is to be expected," Bone stated. "I understand that teams are going to double and triple team me so I just have to be ready for it."
This was the first of three matchups that will take place over the next nine days between these two teams, each of which are trying to fight their way out the pits of the Eastern Conference.
Although Connecticut kept its lead for the majority of the game, their lack of defense and seemingly drained energy in the second half allowed Atlanta to go on runs and even take a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. McCoughtry dominated the outside, while Gray took care of the paint, and the dynamic duo led their team to a phenomenal comeback.
"I thought overall we were poor defensively in the first half as well," Sun's head coach Anne Donovan stated. "We were supposed to lock up and get better defensively in the second half, and it didn't happen."
Lacy kicked off the first quarter with a top of the key three-pointer in the first possession of the game, and the Sun began a 12-3 run. Atlanta struggled early to slow down Connecticut's fast paced transitions and ball movement, which prevented them from setting up in time on defense.
Connecticut's guard Alex Bentley was having a great offensive first quarter, scoring nine points in just over a span of three minutes, but her game slowed down as she picked up two fouls. Five of Connecticut's players, including starters and Jasmine Thomas and Little, collected fouls in the opening quarter.
The Sun's physical game placed the Dream in the bonus early and allowed them to tighten the deficit. Eight Atlanta players scored in the first quarter, but still trailed 26-23.
The Dream was able to get into a comfortable rhythm offensively in the second quarter. Replacing Aneika Henry with Damiris Dantas, they were able to limit Bone's touches.
However, some sloppy turnovers by Atlanta late in the quarter gave the Sun a double-digit lead. However, Connecticut's switch was suddenly turned off, and they went completely scoreless in the last 3 minutes of the first half. This allowed the Dream to go on a 7-0 run and went into halftime down by only 3.
Lacy came out of halftime as the leading scorer with 10 points, and she did not turn the volume down, scoring the first two baskets for the Sun in the second half. But, with great efforts from Gray and McCoughtry, the Dream came within two points of Connecticut.
And with a jumper from McCoughtry to follow, Atlanta took its very first lead of the game in just under two minutes of the third. To add to their momentum, the Sun reached the foul limit again, getting Matee Ajavon and Tiffany Hayes to the line. The Dream went into the final quarter on top 65-59.
"He [head coach Michael Cooper] told us to keep it calm, cool, and collective," Gray stated. "He said we're playing for a purpose, and we just have to go out there and continue to have the same intensity that got us the lead in the first place."
The Dream extended their lead to 15 points in the first two minutes of the 4th quarter, not allowing Connecticut to score for the first four 4:30 of the final quarter. The Sun looked winded, and Atlanta took advantage of this slump by outrunning them and attacking their defense.
Connecticut tried to buy some time by fouling every defensive possession and taking quick shots back on offense. However, Atlanta's aggressive nature allowed them to hold off Connecticut, and they locked in a well anticipated victory home at the Philips Arena.
"I give Atlanta a lot of credit," Coach Donovan stated. "They played with a lot of aggressiveness and got a lot of second shots in the second half, and it was really their will in the second half that was the difference."
The Dream goes on the road to face the New York Liberty Friday night. But they have to keep Connecticut back in their minds, as they face them back to back next Sunday and Tuesday. The Sun will face the Shock, who just ended their 10-game losing streak, at Tulsa Friday night before gearing up to meet Atlanta again.