The Atlanta Dream used their smothering defense in the third quarter to overcome a halftime deficit, and beat the Washington Mystics 72-69.
Washington rode a well balanced offensive attack to a five-point halftime lead, but Atlanta’s defensive efforts held the Mystics to nine points in the third quarter. Washington could never dig out of the hole, falling to the Dream and dropping to 5-3 on the season.
The Dream came out strong in the first quarter, initially leading in what looked to be a back-and-forth type of game. But Atlanta suffered from some intermittent defensive lapses, giving the Mystics lots of opportunities around the basket.
Angel McCoughtry led the Dream with 18 points, and Matee Ajavon contributed 17 of her own. Both of them took advantage of the Mystics’ offensive woes in the third quarter to make their own mark on the game, with McCoughtry netting eight points during the third, and Ajavon scoring nine.
The Dream also took advantage of an all-around performance from Sancho Lyttle. Lyttle ended up with a double-double, scoring 12 with 10 rebounds, and also snatching 5 steals.
Head coach Michael Cooper said of Sancho’s performance that, “You take her for granted sometimes because her game is so fluid and she does it every single night, but we need her to step up and play big right now.”
And play big Sancho did, especially on the offensive boards. She led Atlanta with six offensive rebounds, and the Dream as a team pulled down 15, lapping the Mystics’ five three times over.
Washington’s ineffectiveness on the boards haunted them in the long run. Coach Mike Thibault noted that the Dream scored “72 points and 42 of them came off of offensive boards and our turnovers.”
One of Atlanta’s keys to the game was work the ball inside out to open up the floor, and the Dream followed that edict to the tune of 48 points in the paint. On the other hand, Washington struggled with their ability to work it into the paint, especially in the second half where they only had two close range layups the entire 20 minutes.
Part of the Mystics struggles in the paint is due in part to the turnovers. It was hard for them to really set up their offense and play to their tempo. Center Stefanie Dolson commented on this, saying “When they took that lead we just had to calm down. We were playing into their hands, letting them speed us up and turn the ball over.” And playing to the Dream’s strengths did much more damage than good.
After facing the league’s second highest leading scorer in Angel McCoughtry tonight, the Mystics will get a visit from the WNBA’s leading scorer in Elena Delle Donne, when Washington hosts the Sky on Sunday afternoon.
Atlanta gets a long break off, with their next game not coming until July 5th, when they’ll try to win two games in a row for only the second time this season. The Dream will play the Seattle Storm, who, unlike Atlanta, will play four games between today and July 5th.