It took a while for the Atlanta Dream’s bench to show up. And the Dream was outmatched on the boards before grabbing key rebounds late and coming from behind to beat the Dallas Wings 76-72 Friday night in the WNBA season opener for both teams.
A late, five-point possession sure helped in State Farm Arena.
The seventh and final lead change came with 1:24 left to play, when Brittney Sykes went to the free throw line for three shots, and made the first two. She missed the third, but stepped forward to snare the rebound and passed to Renee Montgomery, who passed deep in the paint to Jessica Breland. Her quick, short jumper was good, and she was fouled. After she made the free throw, Atlanta’s three-point deficit had become a 73-71 lead. And it held up.
“It’s never an easy night in this league, you just don’t see a lot of blowout wins in the WNBA,” said Dream head coach Nikki Collen. “You have to grind wins out because every team is good.”
Breland led all scorers with 17 points, and added six rebounds as the Dream returned home after playing the past two seasons at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion while State Farm Arena was renovated.
Atlanta blocked 10 Dallas shots, and center Elizabeth Williams pitched in a nice all-round game with seven points, six rebounds and four blocks in front of a State Farm crowd announced at 3,070.
“It looks great. I played in Philips (Arena), but it looks awesome. The fans were great,” she said. “We really want this to feel like home court, so we were happy that the fans were loud. They can be loud if they want.”
Atlanta won despite being out-rebounded 42-29, including 22-14 in the second half.
Montgomery scored 12 of her 14 points for the Dream on the way to a 39-34 halftime deficit caused by the Wings’ bench outscoring Atlanta’s reserves 22-6.
Breland’s short jumper with 6:58 left in the third quarter pulled the Dream even at 40, but the Wings didn’t take long to pull ahead again. In less than two minutes, they led 48-40 largely on the strength of Dallas rookie guard Brooke McCarty-Williams, who hit a pair of 3-pointers.
McCarty-Williams finished with eight points and a game-high eight assists.
In the end, the Dallas bench outscored Atlanta’s subs 39-22.
The Wings first took hold of the game with a 15-0 run bridging the first and second quarters.
The season started well enough for the Dream. Atlanta built a 15-6 lead as the ball was snapping around, and Montgomery hit her first three shots -- including a 3-pointer -- for seven points.
But the Wings began converting a rash of Dream turnovers into 10 points, chiefly on breakaway layups or lightly-defended 3-pointers.
“We kind of went into a lull,” Collen said. “They were playing passing lanes, taking us out of our stuff. We don’t want the ball to stick, and I thought at times the ball stuck. ... We wanted to make crisper passes.”
Reserve Allisha Gray of Washington County High paced the Wings with 10 of her team-high 14 points in the first half. Starter Kaela Davis, a Buford High graduate who went on to play at Georgia Tech and South Carolina, had four points and two rebounds for Dallas.
The Dream plays its next game Friday, when the Seattle Storm will visit.
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