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Even off the bench, McCoughtry is still Dream's backbone

Angel McCoughtry has to literally do-it-all for the Atlanta Dream, and unlike in year's past, she's truly embracing her leadership role in the midst of serious adversity.

Scott Cunningham/NBAE/Getty Images

Atlanta, GA -- The Washington Mystics have gone through the agony of defeat twice this season against the Dream. And today was no different. Atlanta, who has no room for error as they fight for the No. 4 seed playoff spot, again defeated the Washington Mystics Sunday afternoon at the Phillips Arena.

Tiffany Hayes did not play the last time Atlanta met with Washington, but tonight she made her presence tonight known as she attacked the Mystics on defense and led her team with 19 points.

McCoughtry, who followed Tiffany's lead with 18 points, was not included in the starting lineup tonight. She came off the bench for the fifth time this season and the third consecutive game overall.

"Angel McCoughtry is a dangerous offensive scorer, but she's a scorer that can score no matter what's going on out there," said Atlanta's head coach Michael Cooper. "And I think for the other ones it takes offensive discipline, and that's what we're doing.

"We're executing and getting our shots through the offensive and then when I bring Angel in; they're already going, and now she's creating and getting it going for us."

Shoni Schimmel's three-point play at the start of the first quarter gave the Dream an early lead and marked the beginning of their 10-0 run. Their run was put to halt with a 3-pointer by Mystics point guard Ivory Latta, who was the overall leading scorer with 22 points.

This would be the first of her three 3-pointers of the game. Unfortunately for Washington, Atlanta did not stop their fury, taking the score to 18-5 in the first five minutes of the quarter. They regularly penetrated the paint drawing foul after foul. Six of Washington's players fouled the first quarter, including all five starters. This trend continued throughout the game giving Atlanta 25 points overall from the line.

The Dream's decision to come out the gates fighting, ultimately, gave them an upper hand in this game. They never stopped scoring, and never stopped hustling for the ball. The longest run they allowed the Mystics to go on was a 6-0 in the first quarter.

A couple of sloppy turnovers by Atlanta in the final minutes of the first allowed the Mystics to keep their deficit in single digits. And a buzzer beater by Latta got Washington within five going into the second quarter.

The Mystics struggled to compete against McCoughtry and Hayes' dynamic duo formed in the second quarter. Together they accounted for 22 of the Dream's 41 points in the first half and Atlanta goes into halftime up 41-35.

The third quarter was truly a Dream for Atlanta, but a nightmare for the Mystics. Washington scored just twelve points in the third quarter, five of which came from guard Bria Hartley.

Hartley came alive offensively for the Mystics, attacking the basket and penetrating the paint put her in double digits with 11 points. However, Hayes came out scoring half of that, dropping back to back three pointers on the Mystics in the first two minutes of the second half.

Schimmel, who remains a crowd favorite with her quick release behind the three-point line, was relatively quiet in the first half.  She became more aggressive offensively in the third, but her shots were not falling. Schimmel shot 25% from the floor. McCoughtry, who is never quiet for too long on the floor, took the score to 59-47 after hitting a buzzer beater three-pointer to wrap up the quarter.

As the final quarter began, Latta remained the only player on Washington to be in the double digits. Atlanta fed on the Mystics frustrations as Sancho Lyttle stepped up on the offensive end. Lyttle, who also earned a double-double in the last matchup against Washington, showed promise being able to play the three position. She hit back-to-back jumpers and penetrated the paint to get to the free throw line.

"I think moving her [Lyttle] at the three spot gives her a little bit more time to rest," said Coach Cooper. "She's more of a perimeter, she's not a banger, and I think having her bang every single night is taking its toll on her because of her foot. To help that, we moved her away from the basket.

"Let her guard some of the players out on the perimeter and then bring in Anieka and DeDe [Dantas] to do the banging."

The Mystics, refusing to lie down and die, began depending on outside shots as the posts were getting consistently stripped  in the paint. Latta, the pulse who kept the Mystics alive in this game, fired off from the floor any chance she had.

She shot 6 of 10 from the field and 3 of 6 from the arch. Emma Meesseman also began to take charge for Washington. She was the second player for the Mystics to score in double digits, scoring 8 points in the fourth quarter.

Latta's unstoppable nature put the Mystics within four points of the Dream, and she motivated them to fight until the very last second. The chances of a comeback seemed very possible. That was until McCoughtry hit a three-pointer from the key and was fouled by Dolson. The four point played put Atlanta up by 8 points with 41.5 seconds left on the game clock.

Although Latta seem to give it her all, the Mystics excessive fouling and inability to stop the Dream's runs puts them on a four-game losing streak.

"Well it would've helped if it wasn't 31-6 in free throw attempts," said Mystics head coach Mike Thibault. "She [Latta] did a great job in keeping us motivated and trying to attack people, but if you want to win these kind of games you need about five of them to go with her, and we only had a couple of others to step up with her today.

"For us to be good, we're going to have to have more than that."

The Dream live to fight another day, but will see the Mystics again, a week from today at the Verizon Center.

"It's do or die for us, and any game we can get will put us in a better position," said Lyttle. "By the time the four games are over, we will hopefully be in the playoffs. So ever one is trying to push as far as they can go."

The Mystics, who are now 16-15, seemed to be post season lock until now losing their fourth straight game. And Atlanta is now fighting for their lives to earn a playoff spot. They will meet the Los Angeles Sparks next at home.

The Dream needs to win all three of their upcoming games, including another matchup with Washington, and have the Mystics lose their games against the Indiana and New York. Washington seems to be still in their reconstruction phase as they have lost four out of their five games without starting point guard Kara Lawson, who is suffering from a back injury.