ATLANTA, GA — When the Atlanta Dream and Dallas Wings go back and watch the film from Sunday’s showdown, they will no doubt look to the third quarter as the turning point in the contest.
It was a game with a first half that took over an hour to complete, with 45 combined free throws shot between the two teams.
While Atlanta had a slight edge at halftime, 53-51, it was clear they struggled to defend Dallas’ attack game; particularly Skylar Diggins-Smith, who led the way for the Wings with 15 points and five assists in the first half.
Whatever was said in the Dream locker room at halftime, however, completely changed their intensity and the course of the game.
The Dream toppled the Wings, 98-78, thanks to their reinvigorated play in the third quarter.
On the offensive end, Brittney Sykes found her shooting groove at exactly the right time.
Sykes had six points coming into the third quarter, and after three quick layups from her teammates, she nailed her first three-pointer of the night to extend Atlanta’s lead to 11 points. From there, it was clear that her shot was going to be lethal.
Her second three came from the wing with about four and a half minutes left in the quarter. She went on to hit two more threes in the last two minutes of the quarter, to give Atlanta a 78-61 advantage heading into the final 10 minutes.
Sykes’ offense was fueled by her play on the defensive end, and the Dream’s effort following the halftime break.
“As far as the super rookie, she was fortunate. She was 2-of-7 up until halftime. I told her to stop looking to score and look to play defense,” Atlanta head coach Michael Cooper said.
“She’s learning and she’s understanding the game, and that’s what I love about her.”
Sykes echoed Cooper, saying that in the second half she began to feed off of her defensive energy.
“I think the first half, it was hard for me to get it going a little bit. I was missing a lot of chippies and started to get inside my head a little bit,” Sykes said.
“I have to remember that my defense sets my offense, so I was too caught up in missing a layup that I might have some missed defensive assignments on the other end. But as soon as I started turning it up on defense, my offense came.”
Sykes finished the afternoon with 18 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks in one of the most complete games of her rookie season, but she wasn’t the only standout in Atlanta.
While Sykes was taking care of business on the offensive end, Elizabeth Williams’ intensity on the defensive end was unparalleled.
Williams was a key line of defense for the Dream, defending the paint and disrupting Dallas’ style of play. In the third quarter alone, the Dream had seven blocks. Four came from Williams, while two came from Sykes.
Williams finished the night with five blocks to go along with her 13 points. As a result, she practically singlehandedly altered Dallas’ inside attack game, (which they did so well in the first half) and shot selection.
With Williams leading the charge, the Dream came out from the locker room with a new defensive intensity, and held Dallas to just 10 points in the quarter.
Over the last three games, Williams has recorded 17 blocks. If she continues to take care of business the way she has done as of late, she will definitely have to be in the conversation for defensive player of the year.
“I wasn’t really getting my blocks early in the season, so I think I was a little hesitant to block shots,” Williams said.
“But I got a lot of confidence the last few games with my blocks, so I figured since I was getting them I needed to keep going at them.”
In a game that was tightly matched and called in the first half, Williams’ and Sykes’ impact on both ends of the floor pulled together a complete game for Atlanta to stop a Dallas team that has been playing some of their best basketball of the season.