Atlanta, GA — The court in the McCAmish Pavilion was hotter than the “Hot-lanta” weather in Atlanta, Georgia on Wednesday night, as the Atlanta Dream battled against the Seattle Storm in the fast-moving, heart-pumping first round of the WNBA single elimination playoffs. Atlanta would take home the win in the uptempo game, 94-85.
The Storm’s big three of Breanna Stewart, Jewell Lloyd, and Sue Bird were prepared to crush the Dream, who had two very crucial players on the bench: Sancho Little due to injury and the second highest scorer for Atlanta, Tiffany Hayes, who was suspended a game for picking up a seventh technical foul in Atlanta’s last regular season game.
”We thought we were in a good position. We didn’t quite start the game the way we wanted to but, when you’re missing two key pieces including Sancho Lyttle and Tiffany [Hayes] it made us jumble our lineup around,” said head coach Michael Cooper on his team’s performance.
The odds were stacked against the Dream, and the Storm took every advantage of it -- at least in the first half.
As expected, Stewart ran the first half of the game, scoring 15 points, while being followed closely by Lloyd with 12. Seattle knew they wanted a face-paced game, and that is exactly what they created. With an undeniable amount of energy, the Storm dominated the court by keeping the ball constantly in motion.
They understood the importance of this ‘must- win’ game, and it did not seem that they would crack under the pressure. They were in it to win it, and made it known. That was, until the second half when the Dream brought Seattle their biggest nightmare in the form of Angel McCoughtry.
The second half began with the Storm in an eight-point lead at 45-37. Seattle had 10 assists on 16 buckets, as well as 24 points in the paint to Atlanta’s 12. Seattle was doing exactly what they intended to do - make extra passes, open things up at the three-point line, and live up to being one of the best three-point shooting team in the WNBA.
The game was going like the Storm wanted, yet, in the first five minutes of the third quarter, everything changed.
As soon as the Dream stepped foot on the court at the beginning of the third, the game did a complete and utter 180. During halftime, Atlanta decided they would not take a loss in their house, and that they would win the game for their teammate, the benched Hayes. Leading this revolutionary change in pace was the fearless, tireless, and un-matchable competitor that is McCoughtry.
Determined and daring, she brought the Dream to their first lead since the second quarter.
Would Seattle’s big three be enough to stop her? In a classic case of 3 v. 1, which team would provide the best support to their star players? Would Atlanta’s star, McCoughtry, have enough energy in her to continue carrying the team on her back in the final quarter?
The answer proved to be undoubtedly, yes. She starred in the fourth quarter. Spectators were unaware that there were any other players on the court, as McCoughtry stole the spotlight -- and more importantly the lead -- from the Seattle Storm once again. Even the Storm’s most treacherous rage was not enough to slow her down.
No Tiffany Hayes? No problem! With 22 points in the second half alone, McCoughtry single-handedly decided that she would have everyone in the stadium screaming for the Dream!
Within the span of one-quarter, Seattle completely unraveled in the wake of Atlanta’s newfound energy and determination. In the second half, the Storm as a team scored eight field goals, while McCoughtry scored seven second half field goals alone!
A two-time scoring champion, as well as a four-time WNBA All-Star, McCoughtry proved that she could make miracles happen. By the final buzzer, McCoughtry had scored a whopping 37 points, almost half of the final 94 points, for the Dream, making their dream of a win come true!
Fans were astonished by McCoughtry’s play, and her coach was just as amazed.
“I’ve never coached a player like Angel McCoughtry. She’s ‘Jordan-ish’.. you know... she’s like Michael Jordan. That fourth quarter where she put on that display was something I’ve never seen before,” said Cooper.
He continued, “They had their best defensive player, and I think we threw them for a loop because as a play it was one that we had never run so we just threw it right at them. Defensively they didn’t know how to guard it. We were glad we were that close, and I’m glad when our time came to make our run, and Angel usually is the one to start that, we were able to pull away.”
Even though McCoughtry may have started the run, she had a helping hand from Bria Holmes, who scored 21 points, and Layshia Clarendon, who scored 12. McCoughtry carried her team to victory, leaving Stewart, Lloyd, and Bird in her dust!
However, McCoughtry did not take all of the credit when asked about the night’s win, stating, “I think they all did a very good job on their own. They kept their heads in the game and stayed very positive.
“I just try to give a little bit of my leadership of just being here and having done this before, so I just try to talk to them during the game like ‘Let’s do this, let’s do this,' and they do such a great job listening. They give their best every game, and I’m so proud of them tonight. These are players that definitely deserve a championship.”
It would seem that the Dream is, indeed, well on their way to a championship with a final score of 94-85 that had Atlanta fans on their feet as they watched the Storm roll on out.
“Obviously not the way we wanted to end the season,” stated Seattle Head Coach Jenny Boucek, “and it’s hard to look at the big picture right now, but big picture is that we are very proud of this season, and there is a lot for us to build on.”