The Atlanta Dream never led at any point during their 78-71 loss to the visiting Phoenix Mercury on Sunday afternoon.
“I thought we rushed shots, that first quarter was almost too much,” said Dream head coach Nicki Collen after the game. “I thought our shots were much better during the second half.”
“We can’t keep playing from behind,” said Dream leading scorer Angel McCoughtry. “We have to start better, we just have to figure it out.”
Atlanta fell behind by six points at the end of the first quarter, 25-19, despite Mercury guard Diana Taurasi only scoring two points. The bulk of the damage by Phoenix was done by point guard Briann January and center Brittney Griner.
By the 7:20 mark of the second quarter Taurasi would have as many fouls (2) as points and Phoenix would still be ahead. The Mercury lead would grow to double-figures following Griner’s 11th point of the game on a turnaround jump shot off of a Taurasi pass. The former UCONN great would have her time to be the focal point of the Mercury attack later in the game.
With 2:47 remaining in the first half the Dream had done a good job of containing Taurasi, who came into the game averaging 18.3 points per game and only had five points, while also forcing six shot clock violations and 10 turnovers during the first half.
The defense wasn’t the issue for Atlanta, the Dream had only managed 12 second-quarter points with the final two coming on a McCoughtry basket at the buzzer and was trailing at halftime 38-30.
Griner would get back to work scoring four of the Mercury’s six third-quarter points and the Phoenix lead would remain at double-digits until a Dream 11-2 run cut their deficit to three points with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Jump shots by Imani McGee-Stafford and Jessica Breland brought the Dream within a point at 56-55 with 25.7 seconds on the clock. A last second shot attempt by Dream guard Brittney Sykes would miss but the damage had been done during the third quarter, the Dream was back in the game a la Tuesday night against the visiting Minnesota Lynx.
Taurasi, 20 points, would score nine of the Mercury’s 11 points during a fourth-quarter stretch to keep Phoenix in front late in the game. Forward DeWanna Bonner, 19 points, had just five first-half points but would become a focal point of the Mercury offense during the second half, scoring 14 second-half points while helping Griner defend the rim.
McCoughtry would lead all scorers with 21 points while Griner finished with 17 points. Renee Montgomery and Hayes added 14 and 12 points, respectively, for the Dream. “As a leader, I have to do better,” said McCoughtry.
“We have to find a way to get points when we’re not making shots,” said Montgomery during the postgame press conference. “We’re still learning each other.”
Five games into the season the Dream (2-3 overall) will have to “learn each other” fast as they will host the undefeated Connecticut Sun (5-0) on Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m.
“My biggest takeaway from the game is that we battled,” added Collen. Our execution wasn’t always so good and at times we looked a little uncomfortable.”
Former Dream center Sancho Little made her return to Atlanta on Sunday afternoon. Little is starting at forward for the Mercury and is averaging eight points, 6.5 rebounds and over two blocks per game thus far this season. Little spent nine seasons with the Dream.