Atlanta, GA -- When watching an Atlanta Dream game in the second half, you begin to think to yourself “what if the Dream played with these breath taking efforts coming out of the gates?” It would be a completely different ball game, and possibly a better overall record.
At the end of the day, Atlanta turned up the heat just in time to secure a must-win game, 79-74 over Indiana, to keep its season going, despite having a less than .500 record at 12-20.
In each post-game conversation, Atlanta’s head Coach Michael Cooper and his team always emphasize how they need to get off to a good start early in the game. We have seen on numerous occasions how they are plagued by slow starts when they do not come out strong, yet Saturday night the same beginning was erased in a huge comeback effort over the Fever.
Even though Indiana can no longer make the post season, Atlanta is still fighting to sneak in and although their start was once again sluggish, the third quarter was completely different. It was as if the Dream had become a new team – one that was awake and ready to get to work.
After being outscored in the first two periods, Atlanta made sure to return the favor in the third stanza, outscoring the Fever, 20-13.
The charge was led by Tiffany Hayes for the majority of the game (scored a team-high 24), however, rookie guard Brittney Sykes jolted Atlanta forward at the most critical points during the high-intensity game.
Bria Holmes had snatched down a huge offensive rebound with 21.7 seconds left with the Dream down three. She immediately kicked the ball out to Sykes on the perimeter who raised up and drilled the game tying – currently postseason saving – triple to tie the game up.
Indiana had a shot at winning the game in regulation as Erica Wheeler handled the ball hoping to get the final basket for Indiana, but, she was being hounded by a pesky defender: Brittney Sykes. Sykes came up huge on the defensive end with 19 seconds left keeping Wheeler’s dribble right in front of her and then driving her into her teammate to force a turnover and ultimately another five minutes of play.
Overtime slightly went back and forth, but Indiana was forced to foul to try and extend the game. Fortunately for Atlanta, a confident Sykes was the one fouled. Again, she delivered with four clutch free-throws to give her team cushion as the Fever tried to create its own comeback. Atlanta would take the hard fought win against Indiana, 79-74.
Saturday night Sykes was the hero for the Dream and even though she had an off shooting night (5-17 at 29.4%), the ones she did make made all the difference – Sykes was clutch.
Even though the Dream came out on top, the game was far from handed to them; Indiana had nothing to lose but still made Atlanta fight. The Dream came back from down by as many as 14 to save its season in the big picture of playing in the postseason.
All year Atlanta has been faced with adversity. Outside of its slow starts, Atlanta knew they needed a replacement without having its franchise player Angel McCoughtry on the court – Hayes has been the go-to player. The Dream also needed its young players to be ready for the tough competition in the league – Sykes has shown she has adjusted and knows how to deliver when the game is on the line.
While Atlanta has stepped up and conquered those test of adversity, there is an even bigger one on the table still: can they overcome a shaky record and make the playoffs?
The verdict will remain unanswered for the coming days as Atlanta must win its last two games for a chance at a spot in playoffs (Los Angeles on Sept. 1 and Phoenix Sept. 3), plus teams ahead of them losing including Dallas, Seattle, or Chicago.