Reeling Dream fall to Lynx as second-half comeback falls short

Michael Cooper’s Dream team fell to 10-16. File photo by HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Michael Cooper’s Dream team fell to 10-16. File photo by HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

The slumping Dream haven’t played “big time basketball.”

Losers of four in a row and seven of nine, the last team the Dream probably wanted to see was the 20-3 Minnesota Lynx. The Lynx proved why it’s the best team in the WNBA, extinguishing a second-half rally and defeating Atlanta 81-72 at McCamish Pavilion Tuesday.

The Dream has dropped eight consecutive matchups with the Lynx.

“Tough game to lose,” Dream coach Michael Cooper said. “Our game plan was on point, but when you play the champions, or a team that’s been the champion … It has to be (about) mental toughness. And the team we played tonight has shown that.”

Atlanta fell behind by as many as 15 in the first half. The team woke up in the waning moments of the second quarter, closing on a 9-1 run and trailing just 49-43 at intermission.

“We did a good job of not letting their runs get too big,” said Dream center Elizabeth Williams, whose 16 points and 11 rebounds accounted for her fourth double-double of the season. “We did a good job maintaining our poise and continuing to do what we wanted to do and keep the game close.”

Atlanta clawed to within two early in the third. Minnesota went on a 1-for-8 shooting spell, allowing Bria Holmes to hit a three that gave the Dream a 58-56 advantage. The lead changed hands five times, a Renee Montgomery buzzer-beating three put the Lynx back on top 66-64 before the fourth.

Williams and Cooper said they adjusted the defense to be more disruptive, which contributed to the second-half run. But the fundamentals were lacking again.

“When you don’t box out, and you don’t make the second effort on plays, you end up with a loss like this,” Cooper said. “I’m proud of our ladies. They played hard. But you have to tip your hat to that team over there.”

Hurting the Dream was All-Star Tiffany Hayes being limited to 23 minutes with foul trouble. Hayes combined with July Rookie of The Month Brittany Sykes to shoot 5-for-24 from the field.

Atlanta shot 1-for-7 in the final two minutes. Minnesota closed with six straight points.

“At the end of the game, we just didn’t make the plays we needed to,” Williams said. “We weren’t executing well and there were a couple stops we didn’t get. Playing a team like Minnesota you can’t do that.

“It’s kind of tough now mentally, but moving forward we just have to keep fighting and get those wins in the end.”

The Dream have been on the wrong end of 10-plus point games seven of 10 times in 2017. Atlanta sits at 10-16, tying the Dream for the 10th-worst record in the WNBA. Atlanta lost 17 games in 2016.

The Dream, a No. 6 seed a year ago, is currently on the outside looking in on a postseason berth. Atlanta has missed the playoffs just twice since its inception in 2008, and there’s still plenty of time to avoid going home early.

“It’s the little things,” Cooper said. “We’re not doing the little bitty things. Basketball comes down to not X’s and O’s, but the fundamentals you were taught back in the ninth grade, high school team. That’s what big-time basketball’s about … We have it to a certain extent, but I think we kind of lose it because we’re concerned about the officiating, all the little things and not the most important things.”

New York comes to McCamish Pavilion on Friday, one of several teams the Dream is trying to catch for a playoff berth.

In Other News