In their seventh postseason appearance, the Atlanta Dream rose above the Seattle Storm 94-85 progressing to the next round of playoffs against the Chicago Sky.
The Storm and Dream faced-off three times in the regular season with No. 7 Seattle leading with a 2-1 margin of victory.
1. Angel McCoughtry had a great night
Lead scorer McCoughtry racked up 37 points against the Storm, shooting 14-of 21 from the field and 3-of-4 from the 3-point line.
A 3-pointer by McCoughtry put No. 6 Atlanta up by 10 with six minutes left in the game. According to Dream coach Michael Cooper, McCoughtry had the wind knocked out of her in the fourth quarter, but returned for the final two minutes of the game.
“I have never coached a player like Angel McCoughtry,” Cooper said. “She’s like Michael Jordan. “The fourth and third quarters when she put on that display of like 16 or 14 points in a row, I’ve never seen anything like that.”
McCoughtry came out of the locker room at the half fired up, hitting a 3-pointer that narrowed the Storm’s lead to 45-40. McCoughtry began the game with 15 points in the first half, shooting 7-of-9 from the field and 1-of-1 outside the arc.
“She’s been a premier scorer for a while and when she gets it going, she’s tough to stop,” Storm coach Jenny Boucek said. “We did try and variety of things and she made good reads and even more so, the players around her made us pay when we tried to give her extra attention.”
Atlanta’s second leading scorer was Bria Holmes with 21 points and seven rebounds.
McCoughtry, Elizabeth Williams, Holmes and Layshia Clarendon left their first playoff game with four fouls each. Williams had 9 points and 16 rebounds.
2. Atlanta turned up the heat in the fourth quarter
After trailing 45-37 at the half, the Dream exploded in the second half, scoring 57 points and improving their shooting percentage from the field from 46.7 percent in the first half to 53.1 in the second half.
In a game with seven lead changes and 10 ties, Atlanta evened the score at 66 to end the third quarter, then came out to start the fourth quarter with a 10-3 run, to run away with the lead.
“We just were glad that we were that close and we just knew that when our time came for us to make our run, and usually Angel’s the one that starts that, that we could pull away,” Cooper said. “Fortunately, we were tied in the third, going into the fourth, so we were in a good position.”
3. Pressure got to Seattle in the second half
Four timely penalties in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter gave possession back to the Dream at key moments, allowing Atlanta to take a confident 78-71 lead.
Seattle scored 21 points in the third quarter and 19 in the fourth quarter.
“I just think we had an off night,” Boucek said. “They had a really good night and we had an off night.”
Seattle and Atlanta shot about even in the paint in the first half, but Seattle was significantly more successful beyond the arc. The Storm was less accurate from the 3-point line in the second half, ending Wednesday’s playoff game with a 30.4 percent 3-point percentage.
After Wednesday’s playoff game, the Dream is 12-6 in home games this season.
4. Rookie of the Year, Breanna Stewart, was stopped
Stewart was limited to four points in the second half, finishing the game with 19 total points, the Storm’s second leading scorer.
When the two teams played in regular season on June 28, Stewart racked up 38 points in the Storms’ 84-81 win, the most by a rookie in a single-game in Storm history.
In the Storm’s last game of the season, Stewart shot 6-of-10 from the field and had seven rebounds. Jewell Lloyd led Seattle with 24 points.
A gold-medal Olympian along with Seattle guard Sue Bird, Stewart’s length led her to a powerful first half, scoring 15 points and grabbing three rebounds.
The Dream entered Wednesday’s playoff game ranking ninth in the WNBA allowing 84 points per game.
5. Guard Tiffany Hayes was suspended
Because she committed seven technical fouls in 2016, Hayes was suspended without pay for the Dream’s single-elimination playoff game Wednesday night. Starting in Hayes’ place on Wednesday was eight-year veteran of the WNBA, Matee Ajavon.
Without Hayes, who ranks fifth in the WNBA with 15 points per game, starters and the bench stepped up against the Storm.
“Our commitment going into this game was to yes, to beat Seattle, but was to give our player Tiffany Hayes an opportunity to play in the playoffs,” Cooper said. “We wanted to play another game for her.”
The Dream’s starters against Seattle were Clarendon, McCoughtry, Holmes and Williams.