The Atlanta Dream clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the first time in franchise history Wednesday night with a 96-82 win over the Phoenix Mercury.
Phoenix came in on the second night of a back-to-back and having clinched the top overall seed in the WNBA Playoffs. They opted to rest stars Diana Taurasi and Penny Taylor in an effort to get them ready for the postseason. However, given Atlanta's struggles of late, a win under any circumstance is a good thing.
"It was a good game. I don't care whether Diana Taurasi or Penny Taylor was in or out," Dream head coach Michael Cooper said. "It was Phoenix and they're the best team in the league. We needed the win, probably more so than them, but again it helped to stop the bleeding for us and now we can work on getting our game together going into the playoffs."
The Dream's execution at both ends of the floor is very good when the pace is high. A quick glance of the box score will show that Atlanta shot 49 percent but a lot of that had to do with their defensive effort. The Dream's defense swarmed the Mercury and then they pushed the ball in transition and took advantage of some early offensive opportunities. It was a stark contrast to the slow paced, half court games that we have witnessed of late.
Rookie Shoni Schimmel helped the Dream take control in the second quarter by scoring 20 of her game-high 24 points.
"She is slowly but surely coming into her own," said Cooper. "Obviously the All-Star Game was her coming out party and she used it extremely well. I think she is starting to understand the WNBA professional game. Her defense has picked up a little bit and again we need her to play good solid defense because we need what she brings on the offensive end."
Atlanta outscored Phoenix 37-15 in the second quarter and then slammed the door shut with a 25-13 advantage in the third quarter.
Schimmel went 8-15 from the field including 2-5 from three-point range. She also finished with six rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes. Tiffany Hayes added 19 points while Aneika Henry logged a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Atlanta went 27-32 from the free throw line and piled up a 45-28 rebounding advantage.
Erin Phillips got the start in place of Taurasi and finished with a season-high 21 points to lead the Mercury. Mistle Bass added 10 off the bench. Brittney Griner played 22 minutes and finished with nine points, five rebounds and three blocked shots.
Atlanta played without leading scorer Angel McCoughtry for the second straight game due to tendinitis in her feet. Even though the Dream have now clinched, Cooper said that he expects McCoughtry to play in at least one of the final two games remaining during the regular season.
"Her injury right now is day-to-day. Its a foot injury. That is up to the doctors and they will handle that. She should be ready to go if not the next game then the final game. She cannot not miss the next two games and go into the playoffs. Got to be playing well and got to get on the court and get some reps."
Atlanta is back in action on Friday when they host former coach Fred Williams and the Tulsa Shock in the final regular season game at Philips Arena. The Dream close out the regular season on the road Sunday in Connecticut. Atlanta will host Game 1 of the playoffs on either Thursday, August 21 or Friday August 22 at Philips Arena.