The Atlanta Dream got their 2016 season off to a great start with a gutty defensive effort in a 73-63 overtime win in San Antonio. Dream head coach Michael Cooper talked about how his team needed to improve defensively this season and if Game 1 is any indication, they have accomplished that.
Atlanta certainly didn't light it up offensively and watched a five-point lead evaporate in the final moments of the fourth quarter, but they regained their composure in overtime and clamped down to earn the victory.
“You know at that time, especially on the road and you’ve got a team on the ropes, they come and get that game, so in the past that might have deflated us a little bit but that gave us some encouragement knowing that we were right there and we gave up something lucky, which our defense shouldn’t have," Cooper said following the game. "In overtime, it was just about coming out and doing the things we had been doing and taking care of the little holes where we let Jayne Appel-Marinelli get open to get that and we were able to get the win.”
Cooper talked during the preseason how the center position was the anchor of the defense. Atlanta added a pair of new players to fill the pivot this season in Elizabeth Williams and rookie Rachel Hollivay. Both had a solid impact against the Stars with Williams finishing with six points and a team-best 10 rebounds while Hollivay added three points, seven rebounds and a couple of blocked shots.
Atlanta's performance was notable given that two of its biggest struggled overall in their first action of the season. The Dream completed the preseason without Angel McCoughtry and Sancho Lyttle who were busy wrapping up their overseas commitments.
“Well we’ve got Sancho and Angel," Cooper said when asked about the difference in this performance as compared to the preseason. "We didn’t have them in preseason and that’s the two biggest things. I think most of the teams we played in the exhibition season everybody had at least their whole team there. We were the only team that was missing 2/5 of our starters, which are very important pieces. But it gave us a chance to look at our young people. Bria Holmes, got a chance to look. Elizabeth Williams a little bit more. Rachel Hollivay got to play, so it gave us the look at some pieces that we knew were going to be role players but be vital role players. You can see the difference now is that when you’ve got your horses there, they’ll come in and get the job done for you.”
Neither Lyttle or McCoughtry were their normal selves offensively but both were very active on the defensive end and that played a huge part in the win.
Cooper was also pleased with the play of his bench. Atlanta finished the game with a 31-8 edge in bench points. Layshia Clarendon led the way with 12 points and saw the bulk of playing time down the stretch at point guard. Bria Holmes finished with seven points in her debut while Meighan Simmons saw an opportunity in the second half and knocked down a pair of big three-pointers during the Dream's comeback.
“I was very proud but that was one of the things we wanted to do going in the draft this year was to shore that area up," Cooper replied when asked about the bench. "We needed people that can come in and score and Meighan Simmons is almost like Vinnie Johnson from the Bad Boy days. She’s a microwave in herself. So when you get those type of points, especially like that and then we get points from the inside in Rachel Hollivay and Bria Holmes who’s a true slasher, it makes for a good offense and makes for where you don’t wear your starters out the whole season.”
Offensively, there is still a lot of work to be done. Atlanta finished with 16 assists and 15 turnovers and shot just 40 percent from the field overall. The point guard situation still appears to be a work in progress but for a team that was looking to get defensive in 2016, Saturday's season opener was a good start.