Photo Credits: Joshua Sowemimo
Early in the second quarter of last night’s game pitting the Atlanta Dream against the Washington Mystics, Dream forward Imani McGee-Stafford missed a free-throw line jumper, sprinted past two Mystics players to grab her own rebound, and scored with a layup. It was the kind of effort that encapsulated the Dream’s play on their eight-game win streak prior to the All-Star break. It looked to be more of the same against a Mystics team who dropped two games to the Dream in July alone.
Turns out this moment would be the last time the Dream resembled the cohesive team that’s dominated the league for several weeks.
The Mystics would outscore them 33-23 in the second quarter and never trailed again for an 86-71 upset win on the road.
Perhaps due to the heavy rain outside, both teams started sluggish. Passes were errant and the shooting selections haphazard. But the Dream held an advantage early due to Tiffany Hayes and Renee Montgomery pushing the pace on misses for fast break opportunities. Angel McCoughtry was also a standout in the open floor. Despite not shooting well in the first half, she got to the line consistently and had 12 points to the lead the team.
The big problem for the Dream was play execution. When the Mystics went on their second quarter run to finally take a 32-29 lead with six minutes remaining, the Dream reverted to hero ball late in the shot clock. Instead of the extra passes that played to their advantage of having smaller but more athletic players, the stagnated one on one play allowed the rangier Mystics frontcourt to trap McCoughtry and Hayes while forcing others to beat them.
Despite being down 50-43 at halftime, the Dream competed on even terms in the third and remained within striking distance to start the fourth. Also encouraging was the play of Elizabeth Williams (13 points, 9 rebounds). While she couldn’t stop a monster game from the towering Elena Delle Donne (28 points, 16 rebounds), she did make the Mystics All-Star work on offense and even got an and-1 layup.
The fourth quarter was a disaster for Atlanta, who managed just 8 points. McCoughtry was completely shut down and held scoreless, finishing 4/14 from the field and a game worst -19. The Dream would trim the deficit to 75-71 courtesy of an and-1 layup from Hayes and then summarily fell apart by relying on ill-advised threes. The biggest culprit was Renee Montgomery (8 points), who went 2/9 from behind the arc. As a whole, the team shot a season-worst 14% (3/22). In contrast, the Mystics shot 35% (8/23) but relied mostly on Delle Donne and LaToya Sanders (13 points, 6 rebounds). The latter delivered a dagger turnaround jumper with a foul to put the Mystics up 82-71 with 2:42 remaining.
For the Mystics, last night’s win was sweet revenge. They proved they can compete with one of the league’s top teams and best them on the road. That’s invaluable should they met in the playoffs.
For the Dream, last night was a trap game. Fresh off the All-Star break, they played like a team who expected to win on talent alone. With a month left in the season, they now have a sobering reminder to not underestimate any foe.
Ismael AbduSalaam is an Atlanta-based writer specializing in music, sports and film journalism. He is the creator of the sports and entertainment site BeatsBoxingMayhem.com. He can be reached at @Ismael_BBM_NYK.