Atlanta Dream head coach Nicki Collen smiles during a WNBA basketball game against the New York Liberty. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan, File)
Photo: Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Photo: Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Nicki Collen leads Dream into semifinals as AP Coach of the Year 

In her first year as a head coach, Nicki Collen is having a dream season.

The Atlanta Dream, a team that only won 12 games and missed the playoffs last season, have become a championship contender under Collen’s leadership in less than a year. 

The Dream finished first in the Eastern Conference with a 23-11 regular season record and secured a double-round bye and the No. 2 seed in the WNBA playoff semifinals, which begin Sunday.

The Dream play Washington in the best-of-five series. Game 1 is at McCamish Pavilion on Sunday at 3 p.m. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.

It became first apparent the Dream were transforming under Collen’s leadership in July when the team won a franchise record eight straight games, earning Collen WNBA Coach of the Month honors.

The Dream’s newfound success continued into August despite season ending injuries to Angel McCoughtry (knee) and Damiris Dantas (ankle). The Dream went 7-1, outscored opponents by 7.3 points and defensively led the league in forced turnovers (14), blocks (6.88) and opponent 3-point percentage (30), earning Collen another WNBA Coach of the Month recognition for August.

Three months ago the Dream were near the bottom of the Eastern Conference rankings, but finished the regular season as one of the league’s hottest teams because they perfected their game on defense. The Dream finished the regular season first in the league in blocks (5.3), tied for first in forced turnovers (15) and allowed opponents the league’s lowest field goal percentage (42.3), 3-point percentage (32.1) and free throw percentage (77.9).

The Dream also ranked fourth in rebounds (35.8), third in steals (7.6) and allowed opponents an average of 79.5 points, the third-best defensively in the league.

Collen’s success in the Dream’s turnaround this season was recognized once more Tuesday as she was named Coach of the Year by the Associated Press.

“I am incredibly humbled to be named AP Coach of the Year,” Collen said in a statement. “When I accepted the position in Atlanta I knew how important it was to hire a great coaching staff, and I am lucky to work daily alongside Mike (Petersen), Darius (Taylor), and Zach (Cooper).

“I inherited a group of players who were hungry for success and have been easy to coach and I thank them for their belief in a rookie head coach.”

Playoff schedule

Game 1: Sunday at Atlanta, 3 p.m., ESPN2

Game 2: Tuesday at Atlanta, 8 p.m. ESPN2

Game 3: Friday at Washington, 8 p.m., ESPNews/NBA TV

Game 4*: Sept. 2 at Washington, TBD, ESPN2

Game 5*: Sept. 4 at Atlanta, TBD, ESPN2

* - if necessary

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