Dream, Clarendon defeat Chicago, 87-81

When the Atlanta Dream traded for Layshia Clarendon near the end of training camp, they knew they were getting a strong defensive presence. Turns out they were also getting some unexpected offensive punch.

Clarendon, a 5-foot-9 guard who spent her first three WNBA seasons with Indiana, made her first home appearance for the Dream on Sunday and had 15 points and eight rebounds in a 87-81 win over the Chicago Sky.

“The first home game is always funny playing here, getting used to driving to the arena, shooting on the court, obviously getting used to my teammates,” Clarendon said. “The third game (since the trade) felt much more at home.”

The Cal-Berkeley graduate’s high scoring average was 6.7 points last season. But in three games with the Dream, she’s already scored 46 points, an average of 15.3 which is second-best on the team. She’s been in double figures each game and scored a career-high 19 last week against her former team.

“The thing I love about L.C. is she’s a good, tough-nosed kid,” Dream coach Michael Cooper said. “She understands what we want to get done as far as our offense, she’s a great defender and today she was our leading rebounder. She’s adding more than I thought to our team as far as getting tough rebounds.”

The Dream (2-1) were led in scoring by forward Angel McCoughtry with 21 points, 12 of those coming in the second half. McCoughtry didn’t have her best offensive game, shooting just 6-for-15 from the field, but had a stellar defensive effort against Chicago’s Elena Della Donne, the reigning WNBA player of the year.

Della Donne entered the game averaging 23 points against the Dream in 13 previous games. But she scored just 16 on Sunday on 5-for-13 shooting, which Cooper attributed to McCoughtry’s defensive effort.

“People see Angel as an offensive threat, but she’s a good defensive player,” Cooper said. “The refs let her play (Della Donne) and get after her and Angel takes that matchup seriously.”

Atlanta trailed by as many as 10 in the first half, bounced back to take a four-point lead in the second period and was behind 41-37 at the half.

Chicago’s fast second-half start gave the Sky a 52-43 lead with 7:15 left in the third quarter, only to have the Dream respond with a 12-2 run to take the lead with 4:03 remaining. Atlanta kept the momentum and led 64-58 at the end of the period.

Chicago trimmed the lead to one point early in the fourth quarter, but Clarendon hit back-to-back field goals and the Sky never got closer than three points.

The Dream also got 12 points and five assists off the bench from Carla Cortijo, who missed the last game with a foot injury, and nine points and five blocked shots from Elizabeth Williams, who they acquired in the offseason in exchange for the No. 4 pick in the draft. Veteran Sancho Lyttle had 10 points and seven rebounds.

“When we made that trade for the fourth pick, people were probably saying, ‘Hmmmm,’” Cooper said. “But (Williams’ Sunday performance) is in there and she’s only going to get better. We’re asking a lot from her. She’s a defensive-minded center and in order for us to win a championship, you have to start with defense in the middle. She’s a shot-blocker and a shot-alterer and I’m happy she’s able to put it together.”

Atlanta improved to 6-3 in home openers and plays three of its next four games on the road.