(ATLANTA) – The first instinct of most basketball fans during a game where both teams combined for 32 percent shooting would be to change the channel. Their loss. Despite the poor offense, the Atlanta Dream and Chicago Sky delivered a thriller, with rookie forward sensation Elena Delle Donne scoring 25 points and the visiting Sky extending its lead in the Eastern Conference with a 67-56 win at Philips Arena.
“Both teams put a lot of pressure on each other,” Atlanta Dream head coach Fred Williams said. “With our shooting, we have to get more baskets in. We get some quality shots, we just have to put them down. That is a pretty long team to shoot over with Della Donne and Cash.”
Adding to Atlanta’s woes was the absence of Dream guard Tiffany Hayes. Hayes had knee surgery in June and according to Williams: “She’s a little bit sore for a back-to-back game. We just wanted to be safe about it and didn’t want to risk it. She didn’t feel comfortable about it either.”
The first quarter of the game set the tone. Delle Donne scored nine points in the first quarter but Sky guard Epiphanny Prince and point guard Courtney Vandersloot were a combined 0-for-7. Atlanta forward Angel McCoughtry scored eight first points but could not bring the rest of her team into the game. She scored four turnovers as she tried to involve other Dream players on bad passes.
Chicago built a 32-16 lead in the second quarter. Dream center Erika de Souza fought her way through Chicago post players to score nine first-half rebounds but out of the Dream’s 26 first-half points, McCoughty and De Souza combined for 22. The Dream had 14 turnovers in the first half and trailed 35-26 going into the break.
Injuries led to a interesting third quarter. Early in the third, Dream guard Armintie Herrington went to the locker room after Delle Donne fell on Herrington’s head in a struggle for a loose ball. With McCoughtry on the bench for much of the third due to knee issues this left the Dream with a lineup of two point guards (Alex Bentley and Jasmine Thomas) and rookie guard Courtney Clements getting significant third-quarter minutes. Clements hit two 3-pointers and Atlanta whittled the deficit down to four points on a pair of McCoughtry free throws. She would find forward Aneika Henry for a layup with 1:04 left in the third quarter to close the gap to 43-41.
“This is the first year for [Thomas and Bentley] to play together,” Williams said. “They all came off the bench to contribute and for those two with Courtney and Alex, they’re doing a very good job. They’ll keep growing as the season goes along.”
Delle Donne only scored three points in the fourth quarter but Chicago head coach Pokey Chatman wasn’t worried. “I don’t think she struggled. They wouldn’t leave her. So what happened was everybody else got to shoot…that’s part of playing off of someone. You play to them, you play through them and you play off them. So we played off them.”
On that same play that closed Atlanta to four, McCoughtry would inadvertently knee Sky center Sylvia Fowles in the groin. Fowles went to the bench, and didn’t return until 5:32 in the fourth with Chicago still clinging to a 55-51 lead. The Sky scored six more points in the two minutes following her return, extending their lead to double digits and never looking back.
Delle Donne led all players with 25 points. Sky forward Swin Cash scored 12 points, Fowles added her 14th season double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds and Vanderloot had nine points and 10 assists.
For Atlanta, McCoughtry scored 20 points on 6-for-26 shooting. De Souza had 12 points and 16 rebounds- her 13th double-double of the season- and Alex Bentley scored 12 points coming off the bench.
* The game was the worst shooting and scoring performance in Atlanta franchise history. In a loss to the Los Angeles Sparks on May 25, 2008 – the Dream’s third regular season game as a franchise – Atlanta fell 74-56 to the visitors while shooting 29.2 percent. The Dream shot 28.6 percent (20-for-70) against the Sky and their 56 points tied the franchise low.
* Atlanta’s first half points (26) and turnovers (22) were a season low and high respectively.
* Atlanta is 1-7 in games where Tiffany Hayes doesn’t play. In addition to this game, she missed all of July’s games and two games at the beginning of August against Phoenix and Indiana.
Sylvia Fowles on having to play two more games against the Dream in the regular season: “It is what it is…I’m pretty sure they’re tired of seeing us just like we’re tired of seeing them. At the same time, you’ve just got to stay focused and approach every game the same way.”
Fowles on the Eastern Conference Finals: “I definitely think we’ll see [Atlanta] in the Eastern Conference Finals.”
Fred Williams on Herrington’s injury: “I don’t know the status of that right now…right now, all I know is that it’s a bump and a bruise from the head.”
Williams on the game being within reach, even late: “It’s about a couple of defensive stops. On the other end, it’s just putting down some shots that you really need to keep the crowd into it. I’d love to have 70 shots a game if I could. I really thought the young ladies played hard for me tonight.”
Williams on McCoughtry playing limited minutes in the third quarter: “She got kind of nicked up in the heels some. She was a little tired. She had tough assignments today, also had to guard a couple of tough players, Cash and Delle Donne and coming back-to-back to do that is really tough.”
Angel McCoughtry on her third-quarter absence: “We’ve been playing a lot of games. I’m not sure what is going on, but my knee has been acting up.”
Pokey Chatman on Courtney Vandersloot: “She turned the ball over a lot and her shot wasn’t falling, but defensively she gives people fits. She stays in front of them, they make off balance shots, she gets deflections. Most people when they struggle with their shot, the rest of their game suffers. That’s what I like about her.”
Chatman on the first half performance of the Sky: “I was happy. 35-26 at the half, right? It wasn’t rhythm basketball for [Atlanta], but I know how quickly they can turn the tide….I knew we had another level that we could play offensively.”
Chatman on the physical game: “I think it was an extremely physical game. They’ve got players that challenge you high, they’ve got players that challenge you low. Atlanta likes to play physical. We’re playing physical, and we need to be even more physical in terms of defending without fouling.”