(ATLANTA) – As the Dream looked for a win that would secure a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference, it seemed that the final home game of the season (Fan Appreciation Day) would be the perfect opportunity for Atlanta’s fourth straight victory. Even with a crowd of almost 10,000 fans it wasn’t enough as the Phoenix Mercury would leave Philips Arena with a tough 79-71 victory.
Despite 28 turnovers and 27 personal fouls from the Mercury, Phoenix head coach Russ Pennell had no regrets.
“Against a team like Atlanta, that’s a quality win. There are three categories we really try to do well in: field goal percentage, the rebound battle and turnovers. Usually in a basketball game if you can win two of those three stats, you have a great chance of winning the game. ”
The Mercury met that goal – even though they lost the turnover battle they shot almost 50 percent of the game, while Atlanta struggled. The Dream could get open shots, but according to head coach Fred Williams, “They were open shots, they just didn’t go down for us. Looking at the stat sheet, we had 78 shots and 25 made. Usually you get more of those made and put in, but Phoenix did a good job of pick-and-roll plays, and their transition game getting us on the back side, so we have to get into practice and work on those things a little bit harder.”
Dream forward Angel McCoughtry scored the first five points of the game, but after that the Dream would struggle. Despite nine first quarter points from McCoughtry Phoenix would take a 28-17 lead after the end of the first quarter and build its lead to almost twenty points, up 41-22 with 5:38 left in the half on a jump shot from Mercury guard Diana Taurasi. Atlanta would answer with an 18-5 run to close out the half on a big push by McCoughtry. She added another nine points during the run, finishing the half with 18 points and chopping Phoenix’s halftime lead to 46-40.
The second half was more of the same. The Dream were held to two points for the first part of the third quarter and Phoenix built another seemingly insurmountable lead, 59-42. This time, it would be Tiffany Hayes providing the spark with six third quarter points. Combined with eight third quarter turnovers by Phoenix, Atlanta closed to within 10, 62-52 at the end of the third quarter.
The fouls kept coming and Phoenix kept turning over the ball – 11 turnovers in the fourth quarter alone – and Atlanta pushed the Mercury to 74-71 with 1:22 left on a pair of free throws by McCoughtry. But Atlanta would go cold for the rest of the game, shooting 0-for-6 in the remainder.
What was Phoenix’s key to the win?
“Not fouling,” Pennelll said. “Our defense was pretty solid but we kept bailing out on some fouls. They’d drive to the hole and instead of playing in good position and making them shoot over our length, we were kind of swatting down. We had to get back to what we were doing in the first half, which was playing position defense and making them shoot over the top of us.”
“At that point, you can go for a three or a two,” Williams said. “We want to get the three shot. Angel had one in the corner. Tiff had a couple of drive passes in the last forty or fifty seconds. It didn’t fall for us.”
Four starters for Phoenix scored in double figures. Diana Taurasi led all scorers with 25 points and Mercury center Brittney Griner added a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds, tying a career high in rebounds and blocking five shots. Forwards Candice Dupree and DeWanna Bonner added 15 points and 12 points respectively. Penny Taylor scored two points in her first game since July 18th.
For the Dream, McCoughtry scored 25 points and Tiffany Hayes added 19 points off the bench. Dream center Erika de Souza scored 12 points and 10 rebounds for her 17th double-double of the season.
* Atlanta finishes the home game part of the regular season with a 13-4 record. The Dream play their remaining three games of the season on the road against Connecticut, Chicago and San Antonio.
* McCoughtry brings her season steals record to 85 with this game, setting a new franchise record.
* Phoenix has a 9-1 record against Eastern Conference teams with this victory.
Russ Pennell on the return of Penny Taylor: “We’re trying to get her a few minutes and get her stamina back. Her knee’s good. It’s just that she’s not in real good basketball shape right now. She’s only had one basketball practice with us where she went full speed. We probably won’t play her in both New York and Chicago; we’ll pick which one since we have a back-to-back. It will be nice to have her back full speed by the playoffs.”
Pennell on turnovers: “I think four or five of those were offensive fouls, which obviously counts as a turnover. If you rebound the ball well and get stops, you can absorb the turnovers. That’s been a problem that’s plagued this team even before I got here, and it’s something we really need to work at.”
Pennell on technical fouls: “I will say this – one of my goals for our team is to make sure that we keep our poise. I tell them to let me handle the officials. I’ve learned a long time ago – I’m a coach’s son; I’ve been around this game my entire life – the more you yell at officials, they’re human beings, they’re going to get their revenge. You can make your point without coming out of your skull, so to speak. “
On the Brittney Griner/Erika de Souza confrontation that resulted in a Griner technical:
Fred Williams: “I just think they got tangled up a little bit. This is pro sports. They’re going to have a little heat and some gestures and the officials stepped in on that play.”
Russ Pennell: “A couple of warriors fighting each other. People get tangled up in a basketball game and emotions run high. I don’t think it was anything other than people trying to stand their ground. I really don’t mind that intensity, but it’s what you do from that moment on.”
Brittney Griner: “It was just the heat of the game. It’s over.”
For more on the Dream’s season, check out our Atlanta Dream season storystream.