The Atlanta Dream beat the Phoenix Mercury 94-76, picking up their seventeenth win of the season.
The Dream own four different three-game losing streaks this season. Two of those streaks came during August, resulting in a 2-8 record in their last ten games, including a brutal loss to the Indiana Fever that sent the team tumbling down the power rankings. Their playoff hopes are still alive, but the team is in win-now mode. Pre-game, Head Coach Tanisha Wright, who was reflective on what she has learned as a coach, citing learning to be flexible, challenged herself and the team: “Finish.” With fans now anxious for good play, the team responds.
Allisha Gray gets things going in the first quarter with a quick bucket in the paint. Rhyne Howard also jumps in with a lighting-fast seven points and three rebounds, forcing a timeout at just under the seven-minute mark as the score jumps to 9-2 early. It’s nothing but offense flowing and active defense out of the timeout. There are deflections, steals, and points in transition, all things missing as of late. Danielle Robinson takes it upon herself to add to the barrage of points, and the Mercury take another timeout with under five minutes left in the quarter. The score balloons to 19-2 and keeps rolling as Cheyenne Parker hits a huge three from the far corner, and Gray scores another four points. At the end of 1, Gray leads all scorers with 13 points, and the score is 31-12.
With the second quarter underway, Phoenix’s Sug Sutton is fighting back for her team. She has back-to-back buckets before Monique Billings freezes Diana Taurasi for a wild bucket that bounces off the top of the backboard and in. Naz Hillmon, who is quietly growing in real-time and was called a “pro” by Wright pr-game, is helping out in any way she can. She puts out a filthy spin move into a pretty bucket and comes right back with a big hustle play on the next possession to save the ball from going out of bounds. She then finds Robinson for an easy basket. The Mercury are trying to keep up as best they can. They deploy Moriah Jefferson and Brittney Griner to help generate some offense. However, try as they might, Aari McDonald answers on the other end, and Robinson comes right back on the next try, draining a three that gets Parker, Gray, Howard, and Hillmon off the bench with excitement. At this point, anyone who touches the ball is making an impact, including Iliana Rupert, who threads the needle with an across-the-court pass to McDonald for three. The Dream are in firm control 54-26 at the half.
Here come the Mercury. Jefferson and Sutton are trading buckets with the Dream and showing no fear in the third quarter’s opening minutes. The Dream continue attacking with defense and baskets, but Meg Gustafson stops momentum by driving right at Billings with force and scoring. Sutton adds more points despite the ball movement that the Dream create. Finally, Rupert forces a jump ball that ignites the Dream on the other end. Howard answers with a huge three to keep the Mercury’s advances at bay. The lead is down to 22 after a 92% shooting quarter for Phoenix, but the Dream still lead 78-56 at the end of three behind 16 points from Parker.
The fourth quarter is a struggle between who will own the floor. AD Durr forces a turnover in the opening minutes, but the Mercury get the possession right back and score, knocking the lead down to 20 with eight minutes left. Jefferson is still eating away at the lead as she shoots her way to an impressive 16 points. However, it’s Parker to the rescue; she shows up with just what the team needs. She steals a ball and scores quickly. Sutton takes exception to that and begins a final push from Phoenix. She is now up to 20 points off the bench and challenging Parker for leading scorer. In the nick of time, Parker shoots a three from downtown and adds two more points as time winds down. That is the final dagger. With under three minutes to play, both teams empty their bench, and the Dream pick up a much-needed win, 94-76. Parker finishes with a stellar 25 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and four steals, her fourth 20-plus point effort over the last five games.
“More than the win, (it was a) much-needed opportunity to play well and do that consistently throughout the game.” Said Wright. “Really happy with the effort we gave.” Next, Wright spoke about the team’s pace being much better and complimented Parker specifically, who she felt had the best pace she had seen in quite some time. When asked about her performance tonight, Parker quipped, “The open lanes (allowed me to attack) and take the opportunity to be aggressive.” She added that she took pride in her defense tonight, knowing it wins games.
The win certainly boosts the Dream, but Wright reinforced the messages she shared with the team. “We’re focusing one game at a time. Every game matters for us. We are not in the playoffs right now. We have to put together another game when we head to Minnesota who is fighting for their lives as well and fighting for position, too. We are focusing on opportunities for us to get better.”
On Friday, The Dream travels to Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to play the Minnesota Lynx at 8:00 PM.