Any Dream fan going to the box score or the WNBA website will be elated to learn that the Atlanta Dream beat the visiting Seattle Storm 68-59 at Philips Arena on Friday night. But rather than tell the standard story from beginning to end, let’s look at five key themes that fans could have taken away after watching the game.
1. A bad quarter can kill you. The Seattle Storm only scored four points against the Atlanta Dream in the fourth quarter. During the 2013 season, Seattle’s four-quarter nightmare was only the fifth time this year that a WNBA team scored less than 10 points in a non-overtime quarter. In four of the five cases, the team with the bad quarter lost – and in the fifth case, the team won only because their opponent also had a single-digit quarter. (New York vs. Indiana, June 5.)
Seattle went 2-for-16 in their nightmarish third quarter, with only one offensive rebound. If it weren’t for a drive by Seattle guard Temeka Johnson with one second left in the third, Seattle would have scored two points in the first ten minutes of the second half.
Seattle forward Tina Thompson said, “We came out a lot sluggish in the second half and we just couldn’t buy a basket. I think that we played pretty good defensively and just getting stops, but we just couldn’t score and when you get in a situation like that….” Nothing more needed to be said.
2. Filling up everyone’s box score fills yours up, too. Dream forward Angel McCoughtry scored 23 points, with nine rebounds, seven assists, and five steals. It’s an amazing line, but it doesn’t tell the full story.
During her career up to now, her best year with assists was 2010, when she averaged 3.1 assists per game. In her first six games, she’s averaged 5.5 assists per game. Teams can no longer assume that when McCoughtry gets the ball she’ll look for the quick score plus free throws coming from fouls on a drive; now they have to worry about her passing the ball.
It’s led to an exciting offensive style that brings every player into the game. McCoughtry had six turnovers as well this game, some moments where an attempt to connect with another player failed. But she can still carry a team – during a difficult first half, McCoughtry took 13 of Atlanta’s 34 shots, scoring 14 points and shooting 7-for-13. The goal of any passer should be to give the ball to the person who can hit the shot, but the tough part is to know when you are the best person to take the shot. McCoughtry can take those shots and hit them.
3. Scoring uns don’t mean s*&!. They say that basketball is a game of runs – due to random chance, there will be periods of a game where a team scores several points in a row. Pro players know that those runs will be balanced out by other periods where they score the points and the other teams don’t.
Take the first quarter, where Atlanta led 11-4 but where Seattle answered with a 13-0 run. Atlanta got off to a good start with its transition game, but no Atlanta player was subbed out until 3:23 was left in the first quarter and Seattle had the breathing space to catch up.
However, Atlanta would go to its bench in a big way. Seattle head coach Brian Agler has always been the kind of coach that leans heavily on his starters. He had three (Noelle Quinn, Tina Thompson and Camille Little) play over 30 minutes and Shekinna Stricklen played 29 1/2. The Dream only had two players with those kind of minutes, McCoughtry and point guard Jasmine Thomas.
Dream head coach Fred Williams gave credit to his bench in the third quarter. When asked what turned the game around, Williams said “Getting more subs in, more fresh legs in. Offensively we got some things off the boards, some put backs, and we had a few more set plays when things kind of slowed down.”
Pro players have the ability to forget their mistakes and remember their successes. Atlanta players saw their efforts rewarded with a 17-4 third quarter. Seattle scored eight of the first ten points in the fourth quarter – but they were down by 16 points after third quarters, a deficit hard to make up.
4. Lady of Spain, we adore you. Atlanta only led by three points in the first half and were being out-rebounded by the Storm 19 to 15.
Dream starting forward Sancho Lyttle was out for this game, playing for Spain in Eurobasket. She’ll be out for the following five games as well and the Dream will miss Lyttle, who averages 10.4 total rebounds per 36 minutes. Willingham only averages 8.0 total rebounds per 36 minutes (these are career numbers, by the way), but those numbers are deceiving, because she’s only averaged about 20 minutes a night over the past five seasons – Lyttle has averaged around 25 minutes a night, so Lyttle’s doing better than Willingham despite Willingham getting the benefit of a lower usage rate.
So what will the Dream do now that Lyttle is out of town? Who gets her minutes? According to Williams, “It’s going to be divided between Angel at the 4 and the small forward sometimes, and then Le’coe, and then to have Anne Marie (Armstrong) out there.”
Even so, Willingham was no slouch. She didn’t score – shooting 0-for-4 – but had eight total rebounds. “She got some really key rebounds down the stretch for us, and I’m proud. I think the more minutes she gets, she’s going to settle in to the things we have on the floor for our offense and defensive.”
5. Tina-Rannosaurus Thompson. Unless Atlanta and Seattle meet for a rematch of the 2010 WNBA Finals, this will be the final time that Tina Thompson will play in a WNBA game at Philips Arena.
Thompson played 30 minutes for Seattle, scoring 11 points and 7 rebounds with two assists. She and Storm guard Temeka Johnson were the only Storm players to score in double figures.
What will it take for the Storm to get back to winning games after a 1-3 start? “We’re gonna have to just keep fighting. We’re not going to give in. Just gonna keep fighting. Keep working, getting better, executing. I think that if we continue to focus on that then we’ll be OK.”
The Dream and Seattle have their rematch in one month on the West Coast. Don’t doubt for a minute that Thompson will be working just as hard whether the Storm win every game up to that point or lose every game. Thompson will definitely be missed. She made some amazing shots and even though she’s near the end of her career, when you watch her play it’s easy to imagine how incredible she must have been in her prime.