The Atlanta Dream advanced to the second round of the WNBA Playoffs with a come-from-behind 94-85 victory over the visiting Seattle Storm on Wednesday. The game was a tale of two halves, as the Storm outplayed Atlanta in the first half and took an eight-point lead into the break behind 15 first-half points from Breanna Stewart.
But in the second half, Angel McCoughtry flipped the script on the game as she shifted into high gear. McCoughtry got into a stone-cold zone that the Storm had no chance of stopping. She finished the game with 37 points on 14-21 shooting, including 3-4 from beyond the arc to go along with seven assists.
Teammates Bria Holmes, Layshia Clarendon and Elizabeth Williams all helped the cause in the winning effort. Holmes poured in 21 points, pulled down seven rebounds and played every second. Not bad for a rookie that 10 teams passed over in April’s draft.
Clarendon, who has career playoff averages of 2.8 points, 1.2 assists and 1.1 rebounds per game, finished with 12 points, seven assists and six rebounds. And Williams, who was named Most Improved Player before tip-off, added nine points and a career-high 16 rebounds to go with three blocked shots.
The big differences between the first and second halves, however, were Michael Cooper switching Atlanta to a zone that stifled the Storm’s attack, and Seattle forgetting it had Stewart on the floor. After scoring 15 points in the first half, the leading candidate for Rookie of the Year scored just four in the third quarter.
Worse still, as the game began to slip away from the Storm in the final period, Stewart was a complete non-factor. Seattle barely even attempted to get her the ball or keep her involved in the offense. In just over nine minutes of play in the fourth, Stewart committed a foul, grabbed a rebound and had an assist. She did not attempt a shot and rarely touched the ball.
Without utilizing their greatest weapon, the Storm began to settle for quick three after quick three, with a vast majority clanging off the rim and leading to Atlanta possessions where none other than McCoughtry converted time and again.
Seattle’s poor shooting — they finished just 28-72 overall and 7-23 from deep — coupled with the incredible performance of McCoughtry meant the Dream were able to run away with the game, pushing what was a 66-66 tie at the start of the fourth quarter to a 92-76 lead with under two minutes to play.
Atlanta’s balanced attack combined with McCoughtry’s heroics were enough to make up for the absences of Tiffany Hayes and Sancho Lyttle. The team’s zone defense in the second half and Seattle’s poorly executed fourth quarter meant that the impressive individual performances of Jewell Loyd (24 points, four rebounds), Stewart (19 points, seven rebounds) and Sue Bird (12 points, seven assists) were not enough to keep the Storm in the game down the stretch.
The Dream now advance to a second single-elimination contest on Sunday, when they will take on the Chicago Sky, who may still be without superstar Elena Delle Donne. As for the Storm, they return to Seattle to conduct exit interviews and head their separate ways. Both teams did better than many predicted they would, and both franchises experienced immense growth both from individuals and as teams. The future looks very bright for the Dream and Storm moving forward.