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Dream respond positively in 93-87 victory over Sun

NBA: Playoffs-Brooklyn Nets at Atlanta Hawks Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

After suffering a tough loss at the hands of the Minnesota Lynx, the Atlanta Dream faced off against the Connecticut Sun on Sunday, and once again, the team would play without the service of Sancho Lyttle, who is currently competing in Spain in the 2016 FIBA Olympic Women’s Basketball Qualifier. In the second of four games Lyttle is expected to miss, the Sun were coming off their biggest win of a disappointing season and the Dream were coming off their worst loss of a surprising season. Fortunately, Atlanta responded nicely by earning a much-needed 93-87 victory to improve to a 7-3 record while remaining as the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

In the first quarter, similar to the three previous games against the Dream (all Atlanta victories), Connecticut led by as many as eight in the first half at 23-15, by virtue of a 13-2 run sparked by Kelsey Bone’s seven points. The Dream then outscored the Sun 6-0 in the final 43 seconds of the first quarter to turn an eight point Connecticut lead into a 2-point deficit heading into the second quarter.

Atlanta’s Alyssa Thomas left the game in the second quarter after a blow to the head and being diagnosed with concussion like symptoms. After a rough first quarter, the Dream’s 46-41 lead at halftime marked only the third time in 10 games that Atlanta has held the lead at intermission this season.

In the third quarter, Atlanta scored the first four points to extend their lead to 50-41 after Tiffany Hayes scored a lay-up with 7:12 remaining in the quarter, which was the largest lead of the game. Jasmine Thomas, who posted a season-high 19 points, wouldn’t allow the Sun to quit as they trimmed the deficit to 58-56 with 2:06 remaining in the period. Following a timeout from the Dream, they would again extend the lead to as many as seven points as Rachel Hollivay, Meighan Simmons, and Tiffany Hayes put a 7-2 run together. Still, Connecticut managed to trim the lead again to 65-60 to end the quarter.

In the final period, Jasmine Thomas’ running lay-up trimmed Atlanta’s lead to 65-62; however, the Dream responded again behind Angel Mccoughtry & Layshia Clarendon extending the lead to 70-62 with 7:52 remaining in the game. Jasmine Thomas and Morgan Tuck, who posted 14 points and a career-high with five offensive rebounds, slashed their deficit to 75-73 with 5:29 remaining.

In a tight game, the Dream saw the Elizabeth Williams and Layshia Clarendon show as Williams posted six points, three rebounds, and two assists and Clarendon posted (11) points and two assists in the quarter. As the game went back and forth, with 31.9 seconds left, Meighan Simmons hit a game-clinching lay-up as the Dream took a 88-83 lead. Simmons contributed this afternoon with a career-high 10 points.

Elizabeth Williams led the way in victory, posting 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. After the game, coach Michael Cooper spoke highly of her, stating “Elizabeth is doing everything that I expected her to do. That’s why we made the trade. I don’t want to call it a daring trade but because we were willing to give up that fourth round pick... This is a young lady that during my years in college out in California, I recruited her.”

Cooper continued praising Williams saying “The defense has to be anchored by people closing the middle. Last year we were very bad at pick-and-roll defense and Elizabeth is able to deal with that. The shot blocking is just an added plus. I think that you’re going to see that when the officials really see that she’s not fouling these players when she’s going up. I’m not surprised by the way she’s playing and like most players the thing Williams needs most is minutes and she’s been able to get those minutes here.”

As for Williams, she has posted double figure points in four consecutive and six of her last seven overall. After her first double-double, Williams said “Every day I just try to come in and play hard. I think it definitely helped getting some rebounds. Getting some offensive rebounds and finding easy points that way, it was nice being able to find a rhythm.”

Angel McCoughtry’s 18 points extend her streak of double-digit scoring efforts to 25 consecutive games. Layshia Clarendon’s nine assists is a career high. Her nine assists are the most by any Dream player this year. After the game, Clarendon was asked about getting her teammates involved and responded by stating “I was telling them that when I have the ball in my hand I think I make good decisions and that’s why Cooper trusts me. Just being able to play a lot of minutes and having the ball in my hand. Also my teammates were making shots today, where some games people don’t always knock it down. I think we just had a good rhythm tonight.”

The Dream closes out the season-long four-game home stand on Friday, June 17 against reigning WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne and the Chicago Sky (7:30 pm ET). Stay tuned.