Atlanta Dream coach Michael Cooper was proud of the fight his team put up against the Minnesota Lynx on Friday night.
Extending their win streak to five games, the Lynx (18-2) never trailed in their 90-80 win at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion.
After the Dream lagged behind the Lynx by approximately 10 points in the second half, Cooper knew the team with the best record in the WNBA was unbeatable Friday night.
"They're not the champions, but they play like champions. ... I think what this shows is our youth. We still have a long way to go,” Cooper said. “I'm very pleased with the effort. I don't like the loss, but I was very pleased with the way we played to stay in that game so long."
Led by the 29-point, eight-rebound performance of Lynx center Sylvia Fowles, the Lynx scored 42 points in the paint compared with the Dream’s 28. Lynx forward and 2017 All-Star MVP Maya Moore, a graduate of Collins Hill High, scored 17 points.
Dream center Tiffany Hayes saw the height of the Lynx roster as one of the challenges in Friday’s game. The Lynx’s height challenged the Dream scoring in the paint and contributed to the 17 Dream turnovers — something Cooper and Hayes know must improve in the final 12 games of the season.
“They were just kind of putting their hands up there and snatching the ball," Hayes said. “If we know our opponents, some of those passes we can get through and some of them we can't. Like in this game, we couldn't.”
After Friday’s loss, the Dream sit at fourth in Eastern Conference standings.
While the Dream (10-11) weren’t able to erase the 18-point lead the Lynx created in the fourth quarter, they were able to show they weren’t intimidated by the Lynx by chiseling their way out of a deficit in the first half. In the second quarter, the Dream trailed by 14 after a 9-0 run by the Lynx, but a 10-0 run to end the half, featuring consecutive 3-pointers by Hayes, cut the score to 45-41.
The Dream made 44 percent of their 3-pointers in the first half, helping fill in the hole they created.
"I just think we buckle down a little bit, and our team is a team that never gives up no matter how many points were down,” Hayes said of the chipping away at the 14-point deficit. “We're always going to fight back no matter what and no matter how much time’s left."
Hayes, who entered Friday’s game averaging 17.4 points, scored a team-high of 25 points and recorded five assists against the Lynx.
Leading the Dream in scoring this season, Hayes’ leadership in the absence of Angel McCoughtry has not gone unnoticed.
"Tiffany has always been a quiet leader. Now she's having to be a more of a vocal later, and it's paying off,” Cooper said of the 2017 Eastern Conference All-Star starter. “I think she's growing up, and her game is expanding and getting bigger and better every game."
Dream guard Brittany Sykes scored 13 points against the Lynx, and guard Layshia Clarendon recorded 10 points and eight assists.
The Dream and Lynx will meet twice more this season. The two teams will play at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center on Aug. 3 and return to McCamish Pavilion on Aug. 8.
The Dream’s next matchup comes at 3 p.m. Sunday against the Washington Mystics.
Even though the Dream didn’t rally for an overtime win as they did Tuesday against the Phoenix Mercury, Hayes was confident the Dream can learn from the Lynx loss.
"We didn't get the win, but I think we can do a lot of stuff we did today at our game on Sunday and win that game, and we can take some things from Minnesota and learn from them and execute ... and finish the game on Sunday," Hayes said.