After their trademark defense showed up too late and lost Sunday’s game to the Washington Mystics, the Atlanta Dream came out of the locker room ready to fight Tuesday at McCamish Pavilion.
The Dream evened the Eastern Conference Finals series with the Mystics at one game apiece with a 78-75 win in Game 2.
The Dream went into Tuesday night’s game with a completely different level of intensity on both sides of the floor than they had in Game 1, stunning a Mystics team which entered Tuesday’s game averaging 91.5 points in playoff games and never trailed in the first game of the best-of-five series.
In the game’s opening minutes, the Dream’s Brittney Sykes and Jessica Breland set the tone that would last until the final buzzer sounded. Sykes totaled five points, one block and two rebounds in five minutes while Breland had four rebounds, four blocks and four points in seven minutes.
Although the Dream’s game was significantly more sound all around Tuesday than it was in Game 1, the game was always in doubt.
The Mystics held a 10-point lead on the Dream during the third quarter after going on a 9-2 run in just over one minute courtesy of Elena Delle Donne and Natasha Cloud.
After scoring 32 points in Game 1, Delle Donne totaled 27 points, 14 rebounds and six assists Tuesday before suffering what appeared to be a lower body injury with 3:04 remaining in the game.
After the game, Mystics coach Mike Thibault said there was no update on Delle Donne.
“Her presence speaks volumes so it’s all about the next person stepping up and whether she can play or not Friday,” teammate Kristi Toliver said postgame. “We have to show up and give our best effort and that’s what we’ll get.”
Dream coach Nicki Collen said while her team’s game plan would obviously change if Delle Donne isn’t available for Game 3 in Washington Friday, the Dream will prepare as if she’s going to play and will adjust accordingly based on Delle Donne’s status.
“I mean, I’m walking,” Delle Donne said after the game, according to ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel. “The swelling isn’t terrible. I’ll go home tomorrow and see our doctors and see what they say. But I’m hopeful to be back in the lineup Friday."
Up until the Dream’s rally to end the third quarter, the Mystics outscored the Dream 20-12 in the third quarter with 11 of those points belonging to Delle Donne.
The Dream quickly clawed their way back from their 10-point hole by going on a 12-2 run to end the third quarter, evening the score at 58.
Breland, who contributed four points during the run, said she could feel the game change during those few minutes.
“We challenge each other to play really great defense and I knew that if I step up my defense a lot then my teammates will follow,” Breland said.
Breland finished with 10 points, 14 rebounds, two assists and a franchise-record seven blocks against the Mystics.
The teams exchanged baskets for most of the fourth quarter until the Dream were on the wrong side of two costly calls. The Dream committed an eight-second turnover with 41 seconds on the clock, followed by a personal foul by Breland with 22.8 second left on Toliver.
Toliver hit one of two free throws to make the score 76-75 Dream leading, with 22.8 seconds left.
The Mystics resorted to fouling in the game’s final seconds, giving Elizabeth Williams and Alex Bentley two free throws apiece. They each hit one, giving the Dream a 78-75 lead before Toliver, who was visibly emotional after the game, missed a 3-pointer at the top of the key with 0.8 seconds left on the clock in the game’s final play.
Bentley, the Dream’s high scorer Tuesday, totaled 22 points, one steal and one rebound and shot 8-of-14 from the field, 2-of-3 beyond the arc and 4-of-6 on free throws.