Keys to success for Atlanta
It wasn’t easy, but the Atlanta Dream are officially headed to the WNBA Playoffs for the seventh time.
In the first-round matchup of the 2016 playoffs, the Dream will be facing off against the Seattle Storm, a team they’ve played against three times this season. Though Seattle has more regular season losses (16-18) than Atlanta (17-17), the Storm hold a 2-1 edge over the Dream in their previous matchups. It’s going to take a lot of effort from the Dream to get past the first round, and here are a few keys to doing so.
Feed Elizabeth Williams
In order for the Dream to have a chance at beating Seattle, they will need significant offensive production from the first-year Dream player. In her first season with the team, Williams has produced a career-high in points (11.3 points per game), rebounds (8.1 rebounds per game) and blocked shots (2.3 blocks per game), with her blocks per game ranking second in the WNBA.
Angel McCoughtry and Tiffany Hayes are the obvious go-to players in Atlanta as they serve as the team’s critical one-two punch, but Williams’ double-figure performances in 20 of the last 30 games shows that she too will be a key factor, especially with Hayes being suspended for the game.
Get to the line
Atlanta’s sole victory against the Storm this season came when the Dream posted an 85.7 free throw shooting percentage, making 18 of their 21 attempts. In their two previous losses, they shot 76.9 and 52.6 percent from the line.
In the June 28 matchup, Atlanta only made 10 of its 19 attempts, compared to 10-for-10 for Seattle. On Sept. 4, Atlanta got to the line 26 times, making 20, but Seattle again went perfect from the stripe (16-for-16). Seattle has had a higher free throw percentage in all three games, so Atlanta will need to get to the line more, as well as make more shots, in order to have the edge.
Contain Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird
Another key factor in the Dream’s one win against Seattle was how well they defended Stewart and Bird, two of Seattle’s leading scorers. In both of Seattle’s wins, these two combined for over 40 points -- 53 points on June 28 and 46 on Sept. 4.
In the Atlanta win on July 5, the Dream held Stewart and Bird to 11 and nine points, respectively. Rookie-of-the-Year contender, Stewart is currently averaging 18.3 points per game, while two-time WNBA champion Bird has scored in double figures in 24 of 33 games.
Keys for Seattle
In order for Seattle to have the edge in the series, the Storm will need to build on their previous two wins against the Dream. In both wins, Seattle grabbed more rebounds than the Dream. The one loss for Seattle was the one game they failed to win the rebounding match (27 to Atlanta’s 38), showing a strong correlation between the winner on the boards and the winner of the game.
The Storm will also need to exploit Hayes’ absence, who is currently Atlanta’s second-leading scorer. Not only did Hayes put up double figures in two of the three matches between the two teams, but she also has one of the highest field goal percentages on the Dream and is one of the team’s best free throw shooters.