Tiffany Hayes’ career-high 21 points led 5 Atlanta players (and three more had 7 or more) in double figures as the Dream pulled away from the Fever in the second quarter. Indiana was led by Tamika Catchings’ 14 points, Briann January finished with 13, Shavonte Zellous with 11 and Erlana Larkins chalked up another double-double at Bankers Life Fieldhouse with 10 points and 11 boards.
Both teams came into tonight’s game looking to clinch the season series, which doesn’t seem like it will matter much as Atlanta started the day with a 4-game lead over the second-place Fever. As mentioned a couple thousand time by the broadcast crew, the series has belonged to the road team. Indiana has been bolstered by the return of All-Star starter Tamika Catchings and Atlanta also had a new player at its disposal as Delisha Milton-Jones was available for her first minutes in a Dream uniform.
The teams battled to begin the game as the first quarter ended with the Dream plus-2 at 23-21 before Atlanta started to crank it up in the 2nd quarter. Atlanta got at least 3 points from 7 players in the quarter and held the Fever to 3 of 9 shooting while forcing 6 turnovers. Guard play has been key in this series and that trend also continue tonight as the Dream was able to get some welcomed three point shooting in the form of its three-headed point guard: Jasmine Thomas and Shoni Schimmel hit one and Celine Dumerc, coming in 1-13, hit two.
The Dream struggled shooting the ball coming out in the third and Indiana took advantage as Tamika Catchings, who was held scoreless (0-5) in the first half, led the charge for the Fever with 12 points as they were able to win the third quarter by 9, cutting the Dream’s lead to 12. The third quarter of this game could also prove key going forward as starting point guard Briann January went to the locker room with what was termed “knee pain” and did not return. Indy has had trouble getting any consistency from the point guard position, or anywhere for that matter, even with January so if she misses any time, it could be crucial to their hopes of a second half surge.
We head to the 4th and Atlanta got back to playing solid defense and with the help of some open shots that the Fever inexplicably missed, held Indiana to 5-19 (26%) to pull away. Layshia Clarendon played some solid basketball for the Fever in the fourth in place of January to the tune of 7 points. But it was Tiffany Hayes’ 7 that helped her reach her career-high of 21 and the Dream closed out a 93-74 win to take the season season and get to 14-5 while increasing their lead over the Fever to 5 games.Hayes was instrumental in this victory as she picked apart the Indiana defense, scoring 10 of her 21 in the paint. Hayes only took two shots outside of the painted area, both threes and made them both while also knocking down 5-6 at the free throw line.
One point of interest I picked up on in the 4th quarter, partially because I’m a fan of “big guards” and playing big lineups, but mainly because when Cooper traded Swin Cash to New York for Milton-Jones, I thought about the fact that she played most of her minutes at the three under him in LA. At one point in the final quarter, Atlanta had their starting lineup (Thomas, Hayes, McCoughtry, Lyttle, de Souza) on the floor and Hayes rolled her ankle. After a few minutes of game-time, Cooper pulled her and put “Sunshine” in the game, essentially moving a 6’1 McCoughtry to the 2-guard spot. So on the frontline, Atlanta had 6’1 DMJ, 6’4 Lyttle and 6’5 de Souza. Now this isn’t necessarily huge, but when you consider that Indiana, by record, is playing the second best basketball in the East and their tallest starter is 6’1, the usage of this lineup could be crucial. The best team in the league and in the Western Conference goes 6’0, 6’1, 6’4, 6’2, and 6’8 so it’ll be interesting to see if Cooper continues to use that lineup going forward.