Los Angeles Sparks (7-2) at Atlanta Dream (4-5) Recap and Analysis

May 31, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Dream guard Angel McCoughtry (35) goes up for a shot over Phoenix Mercury forward Candice Dupree (4) during the second half at Philips Arena. The Dream defeated the Mercury 81-65. Mandatory Credit: Josh D. Weiss-US PRESSWIRE

Last night's game featured Angel Mccoughtry and the Atlanta Dream taking on Candace Parker and the red-hot Los Angeles Sparks. Led by Parker, Los Angeles have soared to a fast 7-1 start to open their season, which is second best in the WNBA and they were bringing their five game winning streak into Atlanta, a team who have seemed to dominate the Sparks in recent history. Last season, the Dream swept the Sparks 2-0 in the season series and Atlanta also led the all-time series between them 6-2 entering the game. The Dream, who have been inconsistent to open the WNBA season entered the match-up with a 3-5 record, which was fourth in the Eastern Conference. Despite the early season struggles, Atlanta have seen a few positive things come out of the slow start. Angel Mccoughtry continued her dominant effort each game this year just like the end of last season, when she finished second in the WNBA in scoring. Mccoughtry, the 4th year player is currently ranked second in the WNBA in scoring with (21.6) points per game and Chicago's Sylvia Fowles is the only player ahead of her. With the subtraction of Erika Desouza until the All-Star break, Mccoughtry have been asked to carry the team through the first half of the season and she's continuing to do as much as she can. Another positive factor for the Dream is the play of their bench, who averages (18.1) per game and that's a huge benefit for the team, who struggled to receive any contribution from the bench in their last two games against San Antonio and Connecticut. In front of a sellout crowd of 8,872 people, the Dream would deliver one of their biggest wins of the season.

FIRST QUARTER:

After the game tipped off, Atlanta and Los Angeles struggled to score on their first few possessions of the game but Lindsey Harding recorded the first basket of the game with (8:31) remaining to give the Dream a 2-0 lead. Atlanta would embark on a 8-0 run to open the game after getting baskets from Aneika Henry, Sancho Lyttle, and Armintie Price as they jumped on the Sparks early in front of their home crowd. Los Angeles would end the run as Kristy Tolliver hit a jump shot to put Los Angeles on the board for the first time with (6:20) left in the period. After the Sparks got on the board, Angel Mccoughtry would put her own run together to establish a dominant opening quarter on Los Angeles. Mccoughtry hit a three-pointer with (5:59) remaining to give the Dream an 11-2 lead and Candace Parker would finally score with (5:51) left to cut Atlanta's lead to seven; however, Angel Mccoughtry would put together her own 6-0 run after hitting three jump shots as the Dream took a 17-6 lead with (4:24) left in the period. Atlanta's run continued as Sancho Lyttle hit a three pointer and Armintie Price would get a free throw to continue Atlanta's 12-2 run that ended on two Nneka Ogwumike free throws to cut Atlanta's lead to 21-8. The Dream would get two more baskets from Lindsey Harding and Yelena Leuchanka as their lead was push to as much as 17 points and Nneka Ogwumike would again end the Dream's run with another jump shot making the score 25-10 with (1:55) left in the period. Keshia Swanier would respond by knocking down two free throws to give the Dream a 27-10 lead and the Sparks would respond with a basket from Jantel Lavender to make the score 27-12 with (20.4) left in the period and Angel Mccoughtry split her free throws as the Atlanta Dream lead 28-12 over the Sparks to end the first quarter. For Atlanta, Angel Mccoughtry led the team with (10) points, (2) assists, and (2) steals. Nneka Ogwumike led the Sparks in scoring with (6) points and (4) rebounds and the Dream's defense contained Candace Parker to only two points in the quarter. The Dream shot (50%) from the field as Los Angeles only shot (29.4%) and Atlanta also scored (13) points off turnovers in the period.

SECOND QUARTER:

Sancho Lyttle opened the period with a basket to give Atlanta a 30-12 lead early in the period; however, Los Angeles put together a 8-1 run as Marissa Coleman recorded a free throw (9:09 left), April Sykes followed with a three point basket (8:20 left) and former Atlanta Dream member Coco Miller would hit two baskets to cut Atlanta's lead to 31-20 with (7:19) remaining in the period. After the timeout, Atlanta's offense would return to their dominant form in the first quarter as Angel Mccoughtry knocked down a three pointer (6:29 left) and Lindsey Harding would finish with a layup to make the score 36-20 with (5:21 left) but April Sykes answered with a layup; however, the Dream would respond again with another 5-0 run as Lindsey Harding scored on a layup (5:00 left), Armintie Price followed with a layup of her own (4:27 left) and Angel Mccoughtry would split free throws to extend the Dream lead to 41-22 with (4:19) remaining in the period until Delisha Milton Jones would end the Dream's 10-2 run with a basket of her own and after trading a few possessions, Atlanta answered with a basket from Sancho Lyttle with (2:34) remaining to give the Dream a 43-24 lead. After the timeout, Los Angeles tried to put a small rally together as Nneka Ogwumike hit a basket and Candace Parker scored her second basket on a jump shot with (1:10) remaining to trim the lead to 43-27; however, Lindsey Harding and Aneika Henry would score two baskets late in the period to give Atlanta a commanding 47-28 lead at halftime. The Dream would shoot (61.5%) in this quarter and the Sparks only shot (30.0%) for the period. At the half, Angel Mccoughtry still led the team with (14) points, (2) assists, (2) rebounds, (2) steals, and a blocked shot. Lindsey Harding assisted her with (10) points, (4) rebounds, (3) assists, and a steal. For the Sparks, Nneka Oguwmike led her team with (8) points and (4) rebounds and Candace Parker was held in check by the Dream's defensive strategy with (4) points, (3) rebounds, and a blocked shot. Atlanta outscored the Sparks in the paint (22-8), (6-3) in second chance points, and (9-4) in fast break points.

THIRD QUARTER:

As the second half begin, Aneika Henry opened the quarter with a basket to extend Atlanta's lead to 49-28 and continued their run as Armintie Price would score on a lay-up (9:25 left) and Sancho Lyttle scored on a jump shot (8:36 left) to extend the Dream lead to 53-28. Los Angeles put together a small 5-0 run as Alana Beard hit free throws and Delisha Milton-Jones scored on a lay-up and another free throw to cut Atlanta's lead to 20 points. Atlanta would answer with Armintie Price splitting free throws. The Dream would continue their offensive dominance on the game as Atlanta would get free throws from Angel Mccoughtry (6:30 left), and Sancho Lyttle scored on a lay-up (5:48 left) to give the Dream a 58-36 lead midway through the quarter. After the timeout, Los Angeles tried to put together a small spark together as DeLisha Milton-Jones split free throws and the Dream responded with Angel Mccoughtry scored on a jump shot (4:07 left) and after Candace Parker scored another jump shot with (3:44) remaining, Mccoughtry responded with a three pointer to give Atlanta a 63-41 lead with (3:25) to go. After Nneka Oguwmike split her free throws, Angel Mccoughtry continued her great game as she scored on a lay-up and would complete the three point play. After the Dream went on a run, Los Angeles would only put together two free throws from Alana Beard and Candace Parker to trim the score back to 68-45 with (2:21) remaining in the period. Atlanta would respond on a 11-0 run as Lindsey Harding would hit two baskets, Kraayeveld would hot a three pointer and a lay-up and Lindsey Harding would top the run off with two free throws as the Dream took a commanding 33 point lead at 78-45 with (27.2) remaining and Marissa Coleman ended the run with a basket and the Atlanta Dream took a 79-47 lead at the end of the period. Atlanta would score (54.5%) in the period and the Sparks only shot (29.4%) throughout the entire quarter. For Atlanta, Angel Mccoughtry led the team with (24) points, (3) rebounds, (3) assists, (3) steals, and a block. Lindsey Harding added (18) points, (5) rebounds, (6) assists, (1) steal, and (2) blocks.

FOURTH QUARTER:

Kristy Tolliver opened the quarter with a basket to cut Atlanta's lead to 30; however, Angel Mccoughtry responded with a three point basket to extend the Dream lead to 82-49. Angel Mccoughtry would score on a lay-up and Cathrine Kraayeveld would score on another lay-up to extend their lead to 37 points. DeLisha Milton-Jones scored on a jump shot to end the early Atlanta run. The Dream responded with two baskets from Yelena Leuchanka and Angel Mccoughtry as the Dream scored 90-51 with (6:14) remaining in the quarter. After the Sparks timeout, Nneka Oguwmike scored on a basket to end the run from the Dream and Los Angeles went on a 8-0 run to trim the lead to 90-59 with (1:35) remaining in the game and Jessica Moore scored the final basket of the game for Atlanta with (44.6) seconds remaining, which ended a (5:16) scoring drought as the Dream would finish the game with a 92-59 stunning victory over the Sparks. Angel Mccoughtry led the team with (31) points, (4) rebounds, (3) assists, (4) steals, and a block and she shot (80%) from the behind the arc. Lindsey Harding assisted her with (18) points, (6) assists, (5) rebounds, (2) blocked shots, and a steal. For Los Angeles, their leading scorer was Nneka Ogwumike, who recorded (13) points, (10) rebounds and a steal. Atlanta's defense held Candace Parker to (9) points, (5) rebounds, (3) blocked shots, and one assist. The Dream shot (49.3%) from the field in this game and was (50.0%) from behind the arc; however, Los Angeles was (28.6%) from the field and was (10.0%) from behind the arc. Atlanta outscored Los Angeles (48-24) in points in the paint, (14-10) in second chance points, (28-12) in points off turnovers, and would out-rebound them (45-39). The victory was Atlanta's fourth home win of the season and their first against a winning team this year as well.

PLAYER OF THE GAME:

ANGEL MCCOUGHTRY:

Atlanta's fourth year veteran continued her dominance to open the WNBA season with another big performance last night against Los Angeles. Mccoughtry didn't even start the game due to violation of team rules; however, once she entered the game, Angel scored on her first four shot attempts of the night and established a dominant performance against one of the elite teams in the WNBA. Angel Mccoughtry led the team with (31) points, (4) rebounds, (3) assists, (4) steals, and a block and she shot (80%) from the behind the arc. She was (61%) overall on the night and this was her seventh game recording over (20) points per game, which is the best in the WNBA this season. Last night was her second time recording over (30) points in a game, her previous was in the overtime loss to the Chicago Sky on June 2nd. When she's providing her team with an overall consistent effort on both sides of the basketball, it gives the Dream the lift that the team needs nightly from her to put themselves in position to win games in this league.

HONORABLE MENTION:

LINDSEY HARDING:

As effective as Angel Mccoughtry's game was tonight against the Los Angeles Sparks, Lindsey Harding gave a huge effort as she posted (18) points, (6) assists, (5) rebounds, (2) blocked shots, and a steal. When Atlanta can get a strong effort from the guard position such as Lindsey Harding provided for them tonight, opponents will have a tough time trying to contain their offense from producing big numbers. Harding gives the Dream the extra boost from the point guard position that successful WNBA teams will need in order to win games against some of the best teams in the league. Harding continues to assist Angel Mccoughtry by giving the Dream a complete starting lineup that can score multiple points in different ways in any game.

CONCLUSION:

The Atlanta Dream played their best game of the 2012 WNBA season against a great basketball team in the Los Angeles Sparks. The game had a lot of emotions as former assistant head coach Carol Ross, who is now the head coach for Los Angeles and former point guard Coco Miller returned for the first time since leaving the Atlanta Dream. When the Dream can get a consistent effort from Lindsey Harding and Angel Mccoughtry, this is a hard team to beat in this league. Last night was a statement win for the Dream and they will need to continue to earn as many wins as possible as the Olympics break is quickly approaching. Atlanta continues their home stand tomorrow against the Connecticut Sun, who defeated Atlanta 92-73 on Sunday and this is a chance for the Dream to earn revenge against the team they eliminated in the first round of the 2011 WNBA playoffs. The game is at 3:00 and will air on SportSouth, LET'S GO DREAM!!!!

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