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McCoughtry’s colossal game silences LA’s late game spark

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The Atlanta Dream hit the road to take on the Los Angeles Sparks. Los Angeles was looking to bounce back from their loss against Minnesota, while the Dream were looking to keep their winning momentum going. The play of Angel McCoughtry kept the momentum in tact for Atlanta.

Scott Cunningham - Getty Images

LOS ANGELES, CA — The Los Angeles Sparks struggled from the onset and dug themselves a hole early, which they couldn’t overcome in their loss Thursday evening. With only four games left in the regular season, the Atlanta Dream shot past the Los Angeles Sparks with an 86-81 victory.

Although they hoped to bounce back from their disappointing second loss to the Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday, they just couldn’t do it against the Dream.

“I thought tonight we got off to a slow start,” said Sparks Head Coach Brian Agler. “And when you play against a team that’s fighting for their lives, they're going to come out and jump right on you like what happened tonight.”

The Sparks had a sluggish offensive start and struggled getting the ball to the rim, allowing Atlanta to dominate the first quarter. The Dream had an 8-0 run in the last two and a half minutes, which gave them a 12-point lead against Los Angeles, 26-14, by the sound of the buzzer.

“There’s no other way to fight aggression than with aggression and we didn’t come out as aggressive as we could have,” said Sparks forward, Nneka Ogwumike.

By the start of the second quarter, the Sparks’ top shooters, Essence Carson and Chelsea Gray, had only accumulated six points. It was evident the Dream came to play and win, making easy buckets off of transitions.

It looked as if the Sparks were going to be left in the dust, but they managed to ignite a small flame with an 8-0 run that diminished the Dream’s lead to under 10 points. Although they began to pick up defensively in this quarter, Atlanta lead, 41-36, into the second half.

In the start of the third quarter, the Sparks were able to come back from a 16-point deficit, but to this point, they had yet to gain the lead once in the game. With five minutes left in the third quarter, the Dream continued to lead by seven points, 54-47.

Atlanta continued to play tough, and Los Angeles couldn’t keep up. The Dream finished the third quarter on a 15-5 run, ending with a lead of 67-52.

At the start of the fourth quarter, the Dream was shooting 48 percent from the field, 50 percent from the three and 94 percent from the free throw line. With only six minutes left in the game, they continued to lead 75-64.

As the game was coming to a close, the Sparks cranked up the intensity and had a chance after the Dream missed four layups in a row, which culminated with Los Angeles’ 14-3 run.

With only three minutes left in the game, the Sparks were only down by six points, 76-70. And that’s with Ogwumike struggling, who had missed nine shots -- she hadn’t gone two weeks with missing that many shots.

In the fourth quarter, Candace Parker, played with a sense of urgency as the Sparks tried to climb themselves out of the deep hole they had dug. However, Parker picked up her sixth foul in the last minute of the game.

Kristi Toliver accomplished her 31st consecutive game with at least one three-pointer, the only player in the league to do so, when she hit one with 58 seconds left in the fourth quarter. But, that three would not be enough help for Los Angeles.

The Sparks have suffered another close loss at home, and are now a game and a half in the loss column behind the first-place Lynx.

“I think it was a well-played game by us,” said Dream Head Coach Michael Cooper. “After the Olympic Break I think we've done a lot of positive things on the defensive end and the offensive end and to come here to LA and beat a very, very, very good basketball team shows we're on the right track and we're heading the right way.”

Angel McCoughtry was the shining star for the Dream with 32 points and 11 rebounds, representing her third double-double this season and 17th game with 20-plus points this season.

She attributed the team’s win to their stamina running up and down the court.

“I think us running got a lot of transition points,” said McCoughtry.

Atlanta now claims a three-game regular season series over Los Angeles, 2-1. They are the second team after Minnesota to claim an edge on the season series over the Sparks.

Both team coaches said there is still a lot of work to be done leading into the playoffs.

“I think we’re testing the waters of our mentality right now, said Agler. “That’s where we need to grow.”

Atlanta will go on to play the Phoenix Mercury on Sunday at 6:00 p.m. ET. The Sparks will play the Seattle Storm on Sunday at 4:00 p.m. ET.