Atlanta, GA -- The Atlanta Dream entered Sunday's game with a vengeance. After falling to Indiana on the road May 20, the Dream smothered the Fever on defense in the first half. But the real battle began in the second half as Atlanta held off Indiana's comeback for an 85-76 victory at home.
"They came back, but they're supposed to do that," said Atlanta head coach Michael Cooper about Indiana. "What we did was we focused, and we started rebounding."
Atlanta, who leads the Eastern Conference with a 5-1 record, came out gunning in the first quarter, beginning the game on a 10-2 run. Tiffany Hayes led the way in the quarter, scoring six of her 13 total points as the Dream held Indiana to 22.2 percent shooting.
The Dream's hot play frustrated Indiana on defense as the Fever got into foul trouble early, sending Atlanta to the free throw line 11 times in the first quarter alone.
Both teams went back and forth offensively in the second quarter, scoring an even nine points each until a basket-steal-basket combination by Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry put the Dream up by 14 points with 6:20 left to go in the half.
Atlanta's largest lead of 18 points came at the 2:56 mark in the second quarter after a free throw by Hayes, but the Dream then went scoreless throughout the rest of the quarter as the Fever closed out with an 8-0 to head into the half down 43-33.
The Fever started the second half on a 10-4 run, cutting the lead to four and giving Atlanta a run for its money. Back-to-back baskets by Erica Wheeler and Tamika Catchings brought Indiana within one midway through the quarter, forcing Atlanta to call timeout.
"We looked kind of deflated a little bit," said Atlanta's Layshia Clarendon. "They're a good team, and they made a run, like we made a run in the first half. You just have to stay poised and come back."
Following the timeout, Atlanta's Reshanda Gray and Sancho Lyttle scored back-to-back to put the Dream back up by five. Natalie Achonwa turned up the pressure on Atlanta when she gave Indiana its first lead of the game with 3:18 left to go in the third.
The Dream responded with a basket and a pair of free throws to move back up to 58-55, but Indiana kept its foot on the gas, giving us a 60-59 score heading into the final quarter.
Catchings tied the game 63-63 with 7:02 left in the fourth, but offensive rebounds proved to be Atlanta's saving grace, as two putback layups by the one-two punch of McCoughtry and Hayes helped put the Dream back up 71-66.
"We always come back to defense," said Clarendon. "That's what we talk about a lot. Get stops, and that's how you get the easy points."
An and-one by McCoughtry gave the Dream a seven-point lead with 3:26 left in the game, and Atlanta held on the rest of the way for its fourth win in a row.
"I thought our bigs really really controlled the paint a little bit more, and that's how we were able to get the win," said Cooper.
Catchings' basket at the 5:57 mark in the third quarter gave the veteran her 7,001st point of her career, joining Tina Thompson as the second player in WNBA history to score 7,000 points.
McCoughtry led all scorers with 22 points, as Clarendon and Lyttle pitched in 17 and 12, respectively. Indiana's Wheeler earned a new career high of 18 points.
"We're not just a one-person team anymore," said Cooper. "Any night, someone can step up."