(ATLANTA) – The old saying is that “offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships”. In this case, it was defense that gave the Dream not just the opportunity to snap a four game losing streak but to extend their home regular season winning streak to 13 games as Atlanta defeated the visiting Connecticut Sun 74-65.
“As far as staying and sustaining in this league, we just came out and put a lot of emphasis on defense these last few days,” Atlanta Dream head coach Fred Williams said, “and I think it was shown tonight especially during the first half and we just have to continue to work on those things.”
During the first half Atlanta held the Sun to just 20 points, setting a new franchise record for fewest points allowed in a half. The previous record was 21, which the Dream allowed in the second half during a game at Seattle on August 13, 2011.
“We put ourselves in a hole, defensively, not picking it up,” Connecticut sun center Tina Charles said. “We shot, I think, about 20 percent in the first half. On the defensive end we were doing alright, but we just couldn’t make shots.”
She was exactly right, at least about her own team. Connecticut went 6-for-30 in the first half, with Atlanta going on a 6-0 lead to start the game and never looking back. At one point, the Dream led 40-18 with twenty one seconds left in the second quarter, the Dream’s biggest lead.
But in the third quarter, the Sun came out of halftime to score the first nine points. Referring to Sun head coach Anne Donovan, Charles said, “Anne made a great speech at halftime and it gave us that determination to go out and be aggressive and get stops and scores. Collectively we made a great effort in the second half.”
Connecticut’s aggression gave Atlanta fits, as it took almost four minutes for Atlanta to score a third quarter basket. The Sun were helped by Atlanta forward Angel McCoughtry picking up four personal fouls in the third quarter – with three of those fouls earned in a 40 second time span.
According to Williams, “A couple of them were from her one, going in on loose balls, the other from a rebound scramble, and unfortunately when you get two or three of those, it throws you off a little bit. So I had to go to the bench and try a different line up. I went to a taller lineup with (forward/center Aneika) Henry coming in and help us out.”
Atlanta’s offensive woes combined with McCoughtry’s foul difficulties allowed the Sun to close within six points, 46-40, the closest Connecticut had been to the Dream since the first quarter. Connecticut had turned it into a ballgame again.
Atlanta answered with an 8-0 run to end the third quarter with the final four points scored by Alex Bentley. Bentley would score 17 points to tie her season high. “You know, Alex, she’s no longer a rookie ‘cause it’s half the season now, so we consider her a veteran-type player,” Williams said. “… her and Jasmine Thomas really complement each other as players and she’s doing a really good job.”
The Sun still had some scrap left. Down 66-56 with less than two minutes left, Connecticut guard Renee Montgomery hit a three pointer and forward Kalana Greene got a steal off McCoughtry which she turned into a basket. The Sun were within five points with less than a minute left. With the goal to get the ball back into their hands, Connecticut tried sending Atlanta to the line, resulting in a long slog of 12 free throws for the Dream. Atlanta missed four of them, but that wasn’t frequent enough for the Sun to steal a win.
McCoughtry lead all scorers with 22 points. Bentley scored 17 and Dream center Erika de Souza had 13 points and 10 rebounds, with guard Jasmine Thomas contributing 10 bench points.
Tina Charles would score 14 points and 16 rebounds, and Kalana Greene would also score 14 points. Dream forward Kelsey Griffin would finish the game with 9 points and 7 rebounds. However, the Sun finished the game shooting only 35.4 percent.
While the Dream celebrates, Connecticut sinks further to the bottom of the Eastern Conference. “We’re struggling right now because we’re just bringing people back from injury like Tan (White) and Renee (Montgomery), and we’ve been waiting for them to get back because they’re generally offensive threats for us,” Anne Donovan said. “But they’re just not in a rhythm, not in a groove, and it’s just about relaxing and shooting the ball. “
As for Atlanta’s attitude, “It feels good because we’ve been on a little bit of a slump,” Angel McCoughtry said. “But it’s always good to protect your home court.”
Erika de Souza extended her personal-best double-double streak to five games, collecting 13 points and 10 rebounds. It was her eighth straight double-figure scoring game.
Aneika Henry’s eight rebounds off the bench was a season high for Atlanta.
During the game against Tulsa, the Dream went 0-for-17 from behind the 3-point line. This time, it was Connecticut’s turn to have a bad night, going 1-for-13.
Among the visitors at Philips Arena: Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed and former NBA 8-time All Star and 4-time Defensive Player of the Year Dikembe Mutombo.
On the progress of Sancho Lyttle, recovering from a broken foot: “Hopefully, we’ll have her back towards the end of the season. Maybe before the season is out. We want her to heal the proper way, and that way we can have her for long term instead of short term.”
On a ten-day layoff before the Dream’s next game: “You’ve got to really spread out your days of what you do in practice. Maybe give them off a day or two off to rest their minds some because we don’t really have a lot of games coming up. We’ll probably get our scrimmage guys and play it like a game situation.”
On Erika de Souza being excluded from the All-Star reserves list: “I can only say that Erika achieved her fifth double-double in a row tonight.”