A renewed sense of confidence, hard-nosed defense and a mid-game bit of productivity couldn’t carry the Chicago Sky over the Atlanta Dream in an 82-68 defeat Friday night. Interim head coach Emre Vatansever took his first WNBA loss.
It was the Dream that got off on the right track by getting up a lot of shots and scoring right away. But the Sky were able to match them in their transition offense and were able to answer back both inside with Elizabeth Williams and from beyond the arc with Alanna Smith.
However, it quickly became apparent that Atlanta was shooting the ball at a higher percentage, whereas Chicago was struggling to convert on some good looks. The Sky’s aggressive defense was keeping the game in contention.
The tenacious tandem of Kahleah Copper and Courtney Williams were scoreless throughout the opening quarter, whereas the other hot-shooting tandem of Marina Mabrey and Alanna Smith was neutralized.
Meanwhile, Atlanta, led by Allisha Grey and Cheyenne Parker, took advantage of the Sky’s weakness from the field and maximized their fast break and motion offense, leaving the Chicago defense scrambling.
At the end of the first, the Dream led 21-15.
The second quarter started with the Sky roaring back with a jumper by Courtney Williams and a transition three by Dana Evans to cut the game to one. But that brief comeback was not to be outdone by the Dream, who went on a 9-5 run to lead 30-20 with 6:44 remaining.
It was back to the same pattern of the Sky’s offense finding good opportunities, but not being able to execute. Their ball movement was also showing some signs of weakness and they couldn’t get on a run.
Then it was all Chicago as they went on a 19-8 run to close the gap. A major contributor was none other than Kahleah Copper, who began to come alive as she took it to the hole and hit from mid-range.
With just under two minutes to play before the half, the Dream still held the lead, but the Sky were back in the game. In the final seconds, Copper crossed over and maneuvered past two defenders to lay it up off the glass and bring the Sky within one at 42-41 going into the locker room. After going scoreless in the first, Copper finished the half with 10 points.
The third quarter began with Copper’s hot hand giving the Sky their first lead of the game on an opening floating jumper. Baskets by Smith and E. Williams enabled Chicago to score six consecutive points. The team started hot on defense and was able to continue its relentless activity in the passing lanes. But the Dream were riding high and began to beat the Sky at their own game.
So much so that they took the lead back 49-47 after a series of baskets by Gray, Danielle Robinson and Monique Billings.
The regained momentum that the Sky had in the second quarter was starting to come apart. Their offense was beginning to play much faster than they should and their defense was becoming out of sorts.
Even with that, the Sky were still in it and found themselves trailing by one. The play of Copper, Mabrey, and Evans off the bench was instrumental. But for every answer Chicago had, Atlanta was there to answer back. Robinson scored 10 of the Dream’s third-quarter points.
Three-pointers by Gray and Rhyne Howard started off the fourth quarter, increasing Atlanta’s lead to seven and once again putting the Sky in a difficult position. Soon after, a Naz Hillmon layup and subsequent foul shot put the Dream back up by ten.
From there, it was back to how the game originally started with the Sky’s shooting performance collapsing. Their overall offense was largely stagnant and couldn’t generate much movement. They also looked to be out of gas after their fast-paced play during the midpoint.
The Dream went on a 19-3 run from 1:12 in the third quarter to 5:32 in the fourth quarter and ran away with the victory.
Copper finished with 16 points while Mabrey added 14 and E. Williams added 11.
Four Dream players finished in double figures. Gray finished with 21 points while Howard had 17. Parker had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Robinson scored 14 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out six assists.
Afterward, E. Williams assessed the offensive performance, which included 37 percent shooting, and what needs to be done.
“I think we took some tough shots and took some contested shots and that obviously doesn’t help your percentage,” she said. “There are days you’ve got to hit those, but those aren’t the shots we want to take. So I think it’s really going to be about sharing the ball, moving the ball, spreading the floor, making the defense move, and that will help us offensively.”
The Sky (8-10) will play Atlanta (9-8) again on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.