May 31, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Dream forward Sancho Lyttle (20) goes up for a shot as Phoenix Mercury forward Candice Dupree (4) defends during the second half at Philips Arena. The Dream defeated the Mercury 81-65. Mandatory Credit: Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE
Coming off a tough 78-62 loss to the Indiana Fever on Sunday at Philips Arena, the Dream continued their home-stand against the Phoenix Mercury looking to earn their second win of the 2012 WNBA season. Phoenix, who were without All-Star guard Diana Taurasi, is off to a slow 1-2 start and have struggled to find a identity and to make up for the loss of Penny Taylor, who is gone for the season as well. The Dream lost both match-ups to the Mercury last year and Phoenix won 5 of the last 8 match-ups between the two teams. Phoenix was looking to continue their winning streak against Atlanta and find a second victory against a very tough opponent in their 3rd road game of the season. In the past match-ups, both teams have yet to score less than 92 points and averaged around 185.5 points per game combined.
In the first two minutes of the game, after Phoenix scored the first points of the game. Both the Dream and Mercury were missing shots, making costly turnovers and neither team could establish any offensive run to set the tone for the game. Atlanta's first two points would come with 7:35 left in the quarter from Yelena Leuchanka's free throws. After she got the Dream on the scoreboard, the team would follow by going on a 8-2 run before the Mercury would score again. As the quarter continued, both teams would trade baskets and also continue to establish any dominance throughout the quarter but the Dream took a 14-10 lead off Sancho Lyttle's layup which forced Phoenix into a timeout. Throughout the period, the Dream could not establish their fast break offense and that allowed the Mercury to keep themselves in the game. Atlanta would eventually end the quarter with a 19-16 lead. For the Dream, Sancho Lyttle led the team in scoring with six points, four rebounds, and a steal. As for the Mercury, Candace Dupree led Phoenix with 8 points and an assist.
The Dream would open the quarter with two huge baskets from Angel Mccoughtry to extend Atlanta's lead to 23-16 early in the period before Dewanna Bonner would end the run with a two pointer. Angel Mccoughtry would also exit the game for a small portion of time due to her injury re-aggravating her at a point throughout the game. Atlanta would start another run after two big baskets from Armintie Price and Ketia Swanier would give the Dream a nine point lead and after Bonner went 1/2 from the free throw line, Yelena Leuchanka would give Atlanta a 29-19 lead with 5:07 remaining in the first half. After the Phoenix timeout, the Dream would start another 8-0 run after Cathrine Kraayeveld knocked down a three point basket and that would be followed by buckets from Lindsey Harding and rookie Tiffany Hayes to give Atlanta a 18 point lead and the Mercury responded by putting together a 4-0 run to trim the Dream's lead down to 14 points. Atlanta would respond by getting a basket from Aneika Henry and the Dream took a 43-27 lead into the half. For the Dream, Angel Mccoughtry lead the team with eight points, one rebound and one assist. For the Mercury, Candace Dupree led Phoenix with 8 points, two rebounds, and an assist. The Dream outscored Phoenix 24-16 in the paint, 15-2 in second chance points, and would out-rebound Phoenix 27-16, including nine offensive rebounds. Neither team had a fast break point in the first half.
Sancho Lyttle opened the period with a basket for the Dream and that started a 6-2 run before the Mercury would halt the momentum with another key basket from Dewanna Bonner. Lindsey Harding and Angel Mccoughtry would respond again by knocking down two shots to extend Atlanta's lead to as much as 21 points in the game. Phoenix continued to attempt and make a run at a comeback as Dewanna Bonner would score six points in the period to close the gap to as little as 19 points but the Dream continued to respond and once their lead became 52-33, the Mercury would take a timeout. After the Mercury timeout, matters became worse for the opponent as the Dream would halt another small comeback attempt which was halted again by Sancho Lyttle. Again, the Mercury cut the deficit to as little as 14 points; however, Cathrine Kraayeveld knocked down another three pointer to give Atlanta a 17 point lead. At the end of the period, the Dream lead 57-40 as they entered the fourth quarter. For the Dream, Angel Mccoughtry and Sancho Lyttle lead the team in scoring and had 10 points a piece. Phoenix top scorers were Candace Dupree with 12 points and Dewanna Bonner had 11 points as well. Another significant note about the Mercury was they were shooting 0-14 from long range, which Marynell Meadors stated was one of the key points that she wanted her defense to address in tonight's game.
The Mercury scored the first free throw of the quarter, both teams went on a scoreless run and the shocking moment early in the game when Alexis Hornbuckle gave Ketia Swanier a hard foul, which forced her out the game for a certain amount of time. Atlanta would respond by getting two free throws from Anieka Henry to extend the Dream's lead to 59-41 and would go on a 6-2 run before the Mercury answered with another attempt to cut the deficit; however, both Tiffany Hayes and Aneika Henry would score two crucial baskets to extend Atlanta's lead to 24 points. Phoenix would continue to fight back as Samantha Prahalis would hit the team's first three pointer of the night with 6:28 remaining and Laurie Koehn followed by knocking down two three pointers of her own to give the Dream a 73-51 lead with 4:21 remaining. The Mercury made one final run at the game by embarking on a 12-2 run and trimming the Atlanta lead to 12 points until Cathrine Kraayeveld delivered her fourth long range shot to put the Dream up 78-63 and Ketia Swanier would end the game with another three pointer to give the Dream a 81-65 victory. For Atlanta, Cathrine Kraayeveld and Sancho Lyttle lead the team in points as Kraayeveld had (12) points, (9) rebounds, (2) blocked shots, and a assist and was also (4-4) from behind the arc. As for Sancho Lyttle, she posted (12) points, (7) rebounds, (3) steals, and one assist. For Phoenix, Dewanna Bonner lead their team with (22) points, (10) rebounds, (4) blocks, (3) assists and (3) steals. Overall, Atlanta outscored Phoenix 34-26 in the paint and 17-3 in second chance points. The Dream also out-rebounded Phoenix 45-35 throughout the game. Now, I will give a report on the team's effort tonight.
TEAM OUTLOOK vs Mercury:
Since the Atlanta Dream had no leading scorer in tonight's win against the Mercury and there was an established balanced attack, I will speak on each key player impact on the game.
Sancho Lyttle, she posted (12) points, (7) rebounds, (3) steals, and one assist. Tonight, she continued to perform at a consistent pace tonight, which provided a big lift in the paint for the Dream tonight. Lyttle also shot over 50% from the field and that's a huge lift considering that the depth at forward is limited due to Desouza's absence. Lyttle is a defensive mismatch when she's able to establish herself down under the basket and against Phoenix, she controlled the tempo of the game. Lyttle is a great rebounder for Atlanta and have the ability to score in the paint and can be a defensive nightmare for opposing forwards
Mccoughtry, who was still recovering from the injury she suffered on Sunday in the loss vs Indiana, had a pretty decent game as she posted (10) points, (2) blocks, (3) assists, and (2) rebounds. Despite her efforts tonight, she committed 5 turnovers and couldn't hit her free throws and this could be due to her sudden injury; however, she must make better decisions when trying to set up assists because a few turnovers she committed came from the applied pressure on Leuchanka and Lyttle by the Mercury defenders. When she have double teams coming at her, she must look for her teammate with the best shot available and give them a chance to score.
Leuchanka was effective on defense but her offense was inconsistent tonight. Leuchanka had (2) points and (6) rebounds; however, she was (0-4) from the field and a few of those shots were right under the basket but as I mentioned above, the Mercury did as much as they could to prevent her easy baskets and they were successful. Another tough disadvantage that she faced tonight was foul trouble as she had four quick fouls in the game. Tonight was not her night offensively but they did as much as they could to prevent the Mercury from establishing any offensive rhythm and that ultimately gave Atlanta a much needed edge. She'll improve for the next game but tonight, Phoenix did a decent job to prevent her from having a huge night.
Price played a great game tonight and was another reason why the Dream were able to get their transition offense going early in the game. She posted (10) points, (6) rebounds, and (6) assists throughout the game. She brings the extra intensity to the Dream offense and allow them to play the aggressive run-and-gun offense especially with all of the talent that Atlanta have to conduct a fast-break tempo. Armintie Price is one of the fastest athletes in the WNBA today and her ability to come up with key steals and blocks on defense makes her difficult to defend during games and on offense, her speed and play making qualities allow her to make big offensive plays through any circumstances that the Dream face on game day. Tonight, the Mercury struggled to keep her under control tonight and she was able to cost many problems for Phoenix.
Harding continued her consistent impact, which she gives day in and out for the Atlanta Dream. Harding had (10) points, (4) assists, and (3) rebounds tonight. This was not a typical game for the five year point guard; however, she was still allowed to make key baskets for Atlanta when they're needed. Harding is a guard who can create big plays by attacking the paint and also is a consistent outside shooter and excels in playing defense against some of the best guards in the WNBA. Tonight, Phoenix had a very tough time trying to defend the guard and she found some great shots for her team and also for Harding. She'll continue to progress as the season moves along.
Kraayeveld had a tremendous game tonight as she tied for the most points scored in a half. Kraayeveld had (12) points, (9) rebounds, (2) blocked shots, and a assist and was also (4-4) from behind the arc. She's a outside shooter and will take a lot of good looks when you're set up with the chance. Coach Meadors stated after the game that she seemed to be catching on with Atlanta's offensive strategy. She provides the extra boost off the bench and she's a great defender as well. Kraayeveld can also play multiple positions and you'll see her try different places in the game and she will perform very well.
Koehn, who only played eleven minutes in tonight's win gave Atlanta's bench a decent night as well. Koehn had (6) points, an assist and one rebound. Her points came from behind the arc and she continues to provide the Dream with another consistent three point shooter. Koehn may not be your average point guard who will post big numbers in the assist category and other areas like Lindsey Harding or Ketia Swanier can do; but, she will give you a momentum boost with her outside shooting consistency. Koehn have played a role in Atlanta's outside shooting game this year, which is ranked 5th in the WNBA with a (.368) percentage.
Swanier was another key contributor on the Atlanta bench in tonight's victory over the Phoenix Mercury. In her first game against her former team, she posted (7) points, (2) assists, and (2) rebounds. Swanier is one of the most productive players on the Dream bench and she plays physical similar to Lindsey Harding, which is a benefit of having another veteran guard on the team. She needs to limit her turnovers in the game because the Mercury defense forced her to make certain passes she usually don't make and she must look for the best shot available in games.
In tonight's win over the Phoenix Mercury, Hayes continued to look impressive coming off the bench as she posted (8) points, (4) rebounds, (3) assists, and a steal. The rookie from UCONN brings an intensity to this team unlike any other guard on the roster because she's not afraid to drive to the basket and she's a very physical player whenever she's on the court. Marynell Meadors stated in her press conference last night that Hayes will keep her mask on to protect her nose because she broke a portion of her nose twice in the past ten days and she also credited her for giving 100% whenever she's on the floor. As the season continues, she'll continue to provide a much needed spark on the Atlanta bench and that could be a huge benefit for the team.
The rookie forward from the University of Florida did very well tonight, mainly on the defensive end for the Dream tonight. Henry posted (4) points, (5) rebounds, (2) assists, and (2) blocks which was a huge lift for Atlanta when they started to pull away early in the second period. Henry provides a physical presence in the paint and she makes it difficult for opposing teams to finish strong at the basket because she'll alter their shot or force them to find another player to take the shot.
POSITIVE POINTS FROM THE DREAM VICTORY:
1. Bench Production
In tonight's victory, Atlanta outscored the Mercury bench 36-10 throughout the entire game. When the Dream's second unit can provide that type of production during games, this basketball team is hard to beat. Led by Cathrine Kraayeveld's (12) points, the rest of the second unit delivered big shots to keep expanding the lead on Phoenix in tonight's win whether it was the outside shooting from Laurie Koehn and Ketia Swanier or whether it was the physical presence from Tiffany Hayes and Aneika Henry, all of the role players provided the extra spark which helped Atlanta to a victory.
2. Long Range Defense
One of the key things that Marynell Meadors wanted to work with the team on was defending the arc better and tonight, their strategy worked. Phoenix was a whopping 0-14 behind the arc throughout the first three quarters of the game until Samantha Prahalis connected on the first three pointer of the game. Phoenix ended up shooting 4-20 from behind the arc but Atlanta's defense must receive a lot of credit because the Mercury never established a offensive run in the game and they were taking quick shots which was a major advantage for the Dream.
THINGS WE MUST IMPROVE:
1. Free Throw Percentage
Atlanta was 15-26 tonight in free throw shots, which is 57.7% in the entire game. This is a problem that the Dream must fix because sometimes, this could be the stat that results in the team losing a game they could have possibly won. The Dream did an excellent job forcing Phoenix to commit costly fouls throughout the game; however, that's irrelevant if you're not converting these shots.
2. Offensive Turnovers
Atlanta made (17) turnovers throughout the game tonight, which led to 15 points from the Mercury. Atlanta's defense made up for these costly mistakes but you can't force passes and become careless with the ball or opponents can capitalize on your mistake and start a run, which could lead them to victory. The Dream must continue to move the ball around to all of the players on the floor and if there is a double team, look for the next available player on the floor because forcing yourself to do certain things will only lead to turnovers. They need to adjust this issue because some of the best teams in the WNBA will take advantage of this and make their opponent pay for these mistakes.
In a game where both teams seemed to show signs of inconsistency throughout the entire game, Atlanta was able to win that game by double digits and will look to ride the momentum into their biggest match of the season when Sylvia Fowles and the Chicago Sky comes to town. The game is Saturday at 7:00 PM on SportsSouth. For tickets to the game, go to www.atlantadream.net. LET'S GO DREAM!!!