Atlanta, GA -- When the reigning WNBA champions come to town, you better be ready to put up a fight. That's exactly what the Atlanta Dream did in the first half when they hosted the Minnesota Lynx on Friday.
However, down the line, the Dream lost their fight, suffering the second-worst loss in franchise history.
Powered by Angel McCoughtry and Tiffany Hayes' combined 45 points, the Dream put up a huge fight early on, but it wasn't enough as Maya Moore-led Minnesota exploded offensively in the second half and won 110-78 to remain undefeated.
"When you hit adverse times in the course of a game, you can't steer away from what you've been doing as a team," said Dream head coach Michael Cooper. "You've got to stick together as a team, and I think that's what we were missing at this time here."
Both teams struggled offensively in the first quarter, with both teams making only six field goals. After being tied at two points apiece, the Dream (6-3) went on an 8-2 run for a 10-4 lead until an and-one by the Lynx (8-0) leading scorer Maya Moore put an end to the run.
The Lynx took their first lead at 2:10 when a step-back jumper by Natasha Howard put Minnesota up 18-16, and the Lynx took a 21-20 lead into the second quarter.
Their lead, however, was short-lived as McCoughtry caught fire. Despite scoring only two points in the first, McCoughtry started the second quarter with four quick points to put the Dream back up one at 25-24.
A back-and-forth offensive battle continued relentlessly throughout the second quarter, with several ties and lead changes. McCoughtry had a scoring burst in the quarter, adding 12 points to her point total, but neither team could find a healthy cushion of a lead.
Both teams continued trading baskets--and free throws--during the last four minutes, with the Dream and Lynx going to the line 11 times combined in the closing minutes of the half.
With a 46-45 Minnesota lead at halftime, the game could have gone either way. Luckily for the Lynx, the momentum began to swing in their favor in the third as they jumped out to a 10-point lead midway through the quarter.
"Things started to click for us when we started playing a little more disciplined on defense," Moore said. "We were able to get consecutive stops in a row and then run. That's what we're really good at, when we can run out in transition, share the ball, not put them on the foul line as much, and get into our flow offensively off our [defense]."
A Hayes three-pointer brought Atlanta back within five with 3:35, but the game got out of reach quickly as the Lynx stretched the lead out to 15 with the help of Moore, who scored 10 points in the second half, and Sylvia Fowles.
"I thought we did a great job in the first half of hanging in there with them, but we were up plus-7 on the boards, and they came back and rectified that," said Cooper of the Lynx, who had 33 rebounds in the game. "As Pat Riley used to say, no rebounds, no rings."
Down 78-63 heading in the fourth, all eyes turned to the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta to find its way back into the ring for the final round. But not much could be done to stop the Lynx, who had six players in double-figures: Moore with 19, Jia Perkins with 18, Lindsay Whalen with 17, Fowles with 14, and Howard and Renee Montgomery both with 13.
"That tells you the heart of a team," Cooper said. "They've got a very good basketball team. They run their offense for all players, not just one or two. When all players are hitting and clicking on all cylinders, it makes for good basketball."
The Dream had four players in double figures. In addition to Hayes' 23 and McCoughtry's 22, Elizabeth Williams and Layshia Clarendon pitched in 13 and 10 points, respectively.
"We got a little chippy with the referees and stopped huddling, and that's a really big point for us," Clarendon said. "But we realize it's a process. It's a long season. We're only nine games, and we have a ton of new people. We have to stay together and learn from our mistakes."