Down 58-53 with less than three seconds to go in the third quarter, the Atlanta Dream’s Erica Wheeler secured the rebound, ran up to halfcourt and heaved the ball from there with less than a second on the clock.
Somehow, the shot managed to go in, causing all of Gateway Center Arena to erupt as their Dream, after being down 24-4 at one point, had managed to pull within two going into the fourth quarter of this matchup against the defending champion Chicago Sky.
ERICA WHEELER FROM HALFCOURT AT THE BUZZER pic.twitter.com/ONUngZxgmN— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 4, 2022
This was a game of runs. During this next run, the Dream couldn’t buy a bucket, as Kirsty Wallace sloppily handled the ball on what would have been an easy layup, Aari McDonald had a shot that just rolled off of the rim and Monique Billings missed a wide-open layup in transition.
“Every possession matters, especially down the stretch, and execution is important,” Dream center Cheyenne Parker said. Parker was the leading scorer for the Dream with 19 points on 67 percent shooting. She also had six rebounds, including four offensive.
The Dream managed to close the first quarter on an 8-2 run to cut the deficit to 14, but still were unable to cash in on easy opportunities in the second quarter. After the Sky went up 35-18, the Dream got a wide-open bucket from Naz Hillmon on a Wallace assist and two straight threes from Rhyne Howard and Wallace, respectively, to make it 35-26.
After facing their large deficit earlier, the Dream successfully clawed their way back and cut the Chicago lead down to single-digits with less than five minutes to go in the second quarter. Unfortunately, Atlanta once agains wasted opportunities to make the score even closer and Chicago went into halftime leading by eight points.
“[They’re] gonna make [their] runs, we made our runs,” Wheeler said. The sixth-year guard out of Rutgers had 15 points (including three 3-pointers) and five assists.
The third quarter is where things started to heat up as Ch. Parker scored 13 points in the period and the Dream pulled within four at one point. With the Sky leading 48-44, reigning WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper, who was the game’s leading scorer with 21 points, made two straight threes to make the lead double-digits yet again.
“[With] a team like that we can’t come out slow,” Wheeler said. “You gotta punch them in the mouth right away and I don’t think we did that.”
Things got even more relentless in the fourth quarter as Wheeler followed up her halfcourt buzzer beater with a game-tying bucket on a brutal cross of Chicago point guard Courtney Vandersloot.
The play that probably defined not just the quarter, but the entire game for both teams is when Atlanta’s Kia Vaughn lost the ball going to the hoop and she dived on the ball along with Chicago’s Emma Meesseman, who was the Sky’s second-leading scorer with 16 points, and multiple players from both teams in a huge pile up on the court.
“They never gave in, they never gave up, they continued to fight and played hard and they put themselves in a position to have the opportunity to win,” Dream head coach Tanisha Wright said.
The Dream won the ensuing jump ball and Wheeler wound up missing a shot that would have given her team the lead, but thanks to a Nia Coffey offensive rebound, she got another shot and didn’t miss. With Atlanta now leading 60-58, Chicago’s Rebekah Gardner scored two straight buckets to give the Sky a 62-60 lead.
For the Sky, it was none other than Candace Parker who took over down the stretch, making a jump shot along with 3-of-4 free throws. That combined with several more free throws from her teammates was enough to secure a 73-65 win.
Chicago moves to 6-3 and Atlanta drops to 6-4, both teams remaining in the top five in the WNBA standings. Ch. Parker especially relished the opportunity of being able to play against her old squad.
“It felt funny, but it was nice just to see everyone,” Parker said. “It gives you a competitive edge also.”
Coach Wright won’t dwell on this loss too long and is already ready to face the Indiana Fever at home on Sunday in the final game of a three-game homestand for the Dream. Atlanta is 2-0 against the Fever so far this season.
“It’s hard to beat a team three times in one season,” she said. “So we gotta come in and we gotta have a really good focus from the start of the game.”