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Dream’s home win over Wings might provide blueprint going forward

As the Atlanta Dream continue to struggle, Tuesday’s win on the back of Maya Caldwell and Cheyenne Parker could provide a glimmer of hope for the season.

Dallas Wings v Atlanta Dream
Maya Caldwell shoots the ball
Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE via Getty Images

This season has been very uneven for the Atlanta Dream, who are currently 8-9 and the No. 7 seed in the WNBA playoff picture. They started off 7-4 and have now lost five out of their last six games.

The game that perfectly sums up how uneven the Dream have been this season is their home game against the Dallas Wings on June 21. For me, the two things that stuck out are the balanced offensive attack and the clutch defensive stops.

“It wasn’t always pretty, but they squeaked out the win, so I’m really proud of that effort to come and get a dub tonight,” Dream head coach Tanisha Wright said.

The Dream had four players in double figures: Caldwell (18 points), Rhyne Howard (16 points), Aari McDonald (15 points) and Parker (14 points). This enabled them to shoot more than 45 percent from the field, including almost 46 percent from 3-point range.

On the other side of the court, the Dream held the Wings to almost 38 percent from the field, including 24 percent from 3-point range. Their lockdown defense allowed them to overcome their 22 turnovers.

I was truly amazed by some of the turnovers that the Dream had, including one where Howard just threw the ball out of bounds and another one where she somehow mishandled an inbounds pass. In a later point in the game, McDonald lost the ball on a strong pass from Howard and Caldwell lost the ball on an outlet pass from Howard.

However, the Wings also forced turnovers of their own, particularly by Parker’s three blocked shots, which all came at crucial points in the game. The first was on Isabelle Harrison in the beginning of the fourth quarter as she was driving to the hoop with the Dream leading 67-66. The second was on a layup attempt by Veronica Burton that eventually resulted in a 24-second violation with the Dream leading 70-68. The third was on Harrison again with 2:12 to go and the Dream leading 74-71.

“Honestly, today, off those plays, we fed off her, so that defensive energy she gave us, that was big and that was key for us to close the game,” McDonald said.

Who knows where they would have been without Cheyenne’s rim-protecting skills? The first quarter was pretty much a shootout with the Dream leading 29-21 at the end of the period. The second quarter was pretty much the same as the Dream led 51-40 at halftime.

Even in both of these quarters, there were obvious cracks in the armor. They were up by double digits at multiple points, leading by as many as 11 points. Every single time, the Dream failed to bury the Wings and allowed them to pull within three points at one point.

It was more of the same in the third quarter as after being up 63-52, the Wings went on a 14-4 run to make the score 67-66 going into the fourth quarter. At one point, the Dream were being so sloppy with the ball (7 turnovers) and allowing so many offensive rebounds (6 in all) that they couldn’t seem to do anything right.

Truth be told, the Dream probably would have lost this game, which would have been their fifth loss in a row, had it not been for Caldwell and McDonald showing up at the most important time for the Dream. Every time they needed a big shot, one of those two was there to supply them with one.

“I found myself just going too fast and so, when we just needed a bucket, I just had to calm myself down and just get to my spot and just read the defense,” McDonald said.

It wasn’t just those two, but the entire team showed up in crunch time. Even after Marina Mabrey managed to tie the game at 68, the Dream were able to get stops that allowed them to eventually retake the lead and keep it.

McDonald and Howard pretty much sealed the game for the Dream as the latter made a bucket off of an offensive board by the latter and later made two free throws. The latter made two more free throws to make the final score 80-75.

I know it’s cliche, but it’s true that the key for this team to succeed going forward is balance. They must combine lockdown defense with timely offense and they can’t just be dependent on Howard to make something happen.

I’m really hoping that this is the catalyst for the Dream getting their season back on track and I especially hope that Caldwell, the former Georgia Bulldog who was just signed the day before this game, is a big part of that catalyst. She put in the work to get back here and so far has made the most of it.

“Just because one door closes doesn’t mean another one is not opening, and me personally, I’m very religious, and I can say that prayer works, and that God is listening, but definitely be patient, work harder, pray harder,” Caldwell said.