Taking a 17 point lead into halftime, Atlanta managed to hold off a rally by the visiting Minnesota Lynx to win 85-82 on Friday night in Philips Arena.
If you’re a Minnesota Lynx fan you can explain the Atlanta Dream’s 85-82 victory over the Lynx last night in a number of ways.
“It was Friday the 13th.” “There was a full moon.” “Mercury was in retrograde.” “The Lynx were hung over from a White House celebration with President Obama on Thursday.” But the truth is more prosaic.
“The first quarter was not a good one for us,” Minnesota had coach Cheryl Reeve said. “We didn’t accomplish very much that we wanted to accomplish. Atlanta played the exact way that we thought they would; they played with a great sense of urgency. I’m sure the finals were on their mind, they’re playing at home where they have been playing really well.”
Was this a statement game for Atlanta? Not according to Dream head coach Michael Cooper. “This game was only meant for us, in the sense that we had something established by winning two games, showing some dominance at home, showing that we are a good team at home. But it didn’t mean anything. We’re not playing for a championship right now. It was a measuring stick on where are at this point in the season.”
Back to that first quarter. The Dream would take a 23-16 lead in that quarter, helped by two fouls against Lynx forward Maya Moore. Moore played her prep basketball in Georgia and runs a basketball camp in Atlanta but the Dream were anything but welcoming. Atlanta picked up 12 first-quarter rebounds.
The second quarter was more of the same. It was Lynx center Janel McCarville’s turn to be in foul trouble, picking up her third personal foul of the half. Dream guards Shoni Schimmel and Celine Dumerc shared the ball handling duties and the only high point for Minnesota was that Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen outplayed the both of them, leading the Lynx at the half with nine total points.
However, Dumerc had five assists in the second quarter and the Dream built their lead into double digits, with Cheryl Reeve picking up a technical foul late in the second quarter. By halftime, Atlanta had a commanding 50-33 lead with three Dream starters in double figures, including center Erika de Souza who had 13 points and eight rebounds.
If you know anything about Minnesota, you know that they can overcome double-digit handicaps. The Lynx fought back; with Whalen fueling an 8-0 third quarter run that closed the gap down to nine points, 55-46. During that run, Whalen had six points and two rebounds and the Dream called a timeout. Atlanta pushed the lead back into double digits shortly after, and kept a 72-59 buffer going into the fourth quarter. But de Souza had been limited to just three points in the quarter, and would not repeat her dominant first half performance.
The Lynx began their final push. Minnesota has the best perimeter in the WNBA and even though McCarville, Whalen, and guard Seimone Augustus carried the load the Lynx went small in hopes of igniting a fire with Moore playing at the four. Atlanta shot only 20 percent in the fourth and Dream forward Angel McCoughtry missed her first six shots. The Dream’s lead deflated like a leaking tire and Minnesota’s reserve forward Tricia Liston hit a three with 4:50 to go to cut the lead down to just three points, 77-74.
The rest of the game was the heavyweight battle fans expected. At just under two minutes, Moore hit a couple of free throws to close the game to 82-80. However, Minnesota blew two chances to tie the game and McCoughtry finally got started. A shot with 42 seconds – McCoughtry’s first basket of the quarter – put the Dream up by four, 84-80. Augustus replied with a fade away jumper and when McCoughtry followed up with a miss, it looked like the Lynx would have another chance to tie but Whalen’s late shot was blocked by McCoughtry from behind with 2.4 seconds left. There would be no more Minnesota chances, and the Dream walked away with the home win.
McCoughtry would lead all scorers with 23 points. All of Atlanta’s starters scored in double figures (and nine out of the ten starters would hit double digits). Two Atanta players had double-doubles, forward Sancho Lyttle (10/12) and Erika de Souza (16/11). Celine Dumerc would go 0-for-4 but have seven assists.
Minnesota was led by Lindsay Whalen, who scored 22 points, eight rebounds and five assists. Maya Moore would finish with 10 points and nine rebounds, but it would be an off-night for her. She shot 2-for-11 from the floor, finished with four fouls and went 2-for-9 from 3 point range.
“The second half it took some time,” Cooper said, “but what I like about the second half it shows that championship team. When you have to execute you have to execute, and I thought we executed very well down the stretch.”
* This was the third straight win by Atlanta, and Atlanta’s home record in the regular season is 23-5 over the last 28 games.
* This is the second straight season that Atlanta has beaten the Lynx at home in the regular season; the all time record against Minnesota is 8-5 in favor of the Lynx.
* Minnesota hit 20 of 22 free throws Friday night, shooting 91 percent from the line.
Cooper on Maya Moore and if he expected her to take control: “No, we expected what we got from her. I thought our defense, [Tiffany Hayes] did a great job on her. Angel did a good job on Seimone. Our pick and roll coverage worked to perfection and again, we just wanted to limit one of those players. It was going to be hard to limit two. But we held both to under 20 points and if you can do that against any team you give yourself a chance to win.”
Cooper on the absence of Minnesota’s Rebekkah Brunson: “Our plan was to run. We knew they were missing some players like that and we knew they were short handed and I thought we did a good job of controlling the tempo of the game.”
Cooper on Minnesota going small in the fourth: “Adjustments are something you look for in a game. They can be negative adjustments or they can be positive adjustments. I thought that was a negative adjustment on their behalf because that’s not how they normally play. We made them make an adjustment. It worked to our advantage because Sancho can guard bigger players and I thought Liston’s a great shooter.”
Tiffany Hayes on Atlanta and pick-and-roll defense: “We practice that a lot in practice to make sure that we are in the right place, so if someone’s driving we know exactly where they are going to be.”
Cheryl Reeve on the final possession by Minnesota: “I know that Whalen is tough as nails. When the going gets tough, Whalen is right there. She came up short that last possession, I know she wants to have that one back. She is a great finisher and I thought she had to play under a lot of duress and a lot of contact. She isn’t one to complain and that is what I appreciate about her.”
Reeve on Maya Moore: “She has matured. I think that is the biggest thing being in her fourth season. She always prepares herself really well physically and nutritiously. She is a mature athlete and she plays with intellect and great athleticism.”
Reeve on the technical: “It was a missed restricted area call. Their player was clearly in the RA and the job of the officials – the one that’s making the call, it’s a very tough thing to locate the foul and to locate feet. So you have two other officials, that’s their job. And they missed it and that’s what they told me at halftime, that they missed the call.”
Reeve on when Minnesota turned things around: “I thought it was before [the second half]. I thought we played much better the second half of the second quarter, we played much more in line of what we hoped to do. We got rid of the play calling that was giving us problems and we went much more to a pick-and-roll game that we stuck with largely for the rest of the game.”