Inside the Dream’s win streak capped by Courtney Williams’ shot

Dream guard Courtney Williams (10) steals from the Chicago Sky in a WNBA basketball game Wednesday, May 19, 2021, in College Park. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
Dream guard Courtney Williams (10) steals from the Chicago Sky in a WNBA basketball game Wednesday, May 19, 2021, in College Park. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Fewer than 10 seconds remained in overtime at the Barclays Center when Dream interim coach Mike Petersen called timeout Saturday. He had a master plan for his team’s final play to sink a basket and escape New York with a thrilling win over the sizzling, youthful New York Liberty.

“I’m gonna get coachy,” Petersen said. “It’s going to be the Mona stinkin’ Lisa of plays.”

Meanwhile, Courtney Williams had been making baskets at a torrid pace. She neared the 30-point mark and had played all but two minutes. Her teammates had a way of bringing a fiery speech to the Dream as they tried to seal a victory. In the timeout, forward Monique Billings said, “Y’all are playing really timid.” Crystal Bradford chimed in with a similar sentiment as she said, “Y’all look scared to take the big shot. Who is going to take the big shot?”

Almost as if Williams had been in the scene with all-time NBA great Michael Jordan in “The Last Dance” documentary, the Dream’s walking bucket of a guard said she took those comments personally.

Williams had a simple thought. It didn’t involve a fine work of art. She stared down Petersen.

“Give me the ball,” a laser-focused Williams said.

“Court,” Petersen responded. “That sounds like a great idea.”

Williams made a 3-pointer to tie the score only 25 seconds earlier, so the Dream didn’t have any fear in doing it again. Williams received the inbound pass, her teammates set a screen and Williams had a lone defender — Liberty rookie DiDi Richards — eyeing her down.

She pulled up. The result could’ve been expected for one of the more-lethal deep shooters in the WNBA through the season’s early stages. Nothing but net.

“If I don’t give her the ball there,” Petersen said. “I’m the dumbest man in history.”

“I’m cold, man,” Williams said. “I’ve got ice in my veins.”

The Dream (4-2) walked out of Barclays Center not only with a 90-87 victory over the Liberty, but a four-game win streak and three victories over a five-day stretch. After a 7-15 season in 2020, the Dream suddenly are a force to be reckoned with as the team features a backcourt that can score in bunches and a veteran frontcourt that Petersen called the team’s “glue.”

“It’s time to put our foot on the gas. We have a lot more to work towards,” Billings said. “This is a very small example of what we can bring every single day. I don’t want to put us in a box, but our mindset is (winning a) championship. We’re capable of that when we are playing together. It’s going to be scary.”

The winning surge comes after an 0-2 start in which the Dream looked out-of-sync with a new-look roster and needed time for all of its pieces to jell. The Dream’s swing of momentum came during a furious second-half rally in a May 19 home loss to the Chicago Sky. The Dream overcame a sluggish start and nearly recorded a victory after trailing by more than 20 points.

From then on, the Dream have started games with a different type of fire and have begun to become a cohesive unit. Much like her Saturday afternoon heroics, Williams has led the Dream’s backcourt with a higher-than-expected scoring total. The South Georgia native has averaged 19.5 points per game over six contests, which ranks ninth-best among WNBA players. She also is making 3-pointers at a 55.2% clip, the sixth-highest percentage in the league.

Williams’ play has coincided with the welcome return of Tiffany Hayes, the steady production of Chennedy Carter and the emergence of Crystal Bradford — who is on a WNBA roster for the first time since 2015.

Sunday’s celebratory extension of the win streak came with a setback, however. Carter suffered a hyperextended elbow, per a team representative. The injury won’t require surgery, but a timetable for the second-year guard’s return is unknown.

“We’re a problem. A lot of teams are seeing that,” Williams said. “We have it rolling, and it could be anyone’s night. We can get hot at any given time, and we’ll ride that wave.”

The first loss to the Sky might’ve been a turning point for the Dream. Petersen said he wasn’t frustrated with the early defeat because anger isn’t in the blood of the uber-optimistic leader. He did, however, walk out of his home arena with disappointment and a desire to want more out of his team.

The Dream answered his call, and the franchise is seeing one of its first waves of consistent prosperity since making the 2018 playoffs. The Dream’s coming challenges include a back-to-back series of games against the Minnesota Lynx, Washington Mystics, Seattle Storm and New York Liberty.

“We’re not where we want to be. At least we’re not where we were,” Petersen said. “We’re getting better.”

Williams fired up the game-winning shot and likely knew it would fall through. She hopped up and down, then turned around to a sea of her teammates. She chest-bumped Billings and erupted into a roar.

Her words might’ve been on track with the Dream’s mantra as they’ve found success and plan to keep it rolling.

“We’re coming,” Williams said.

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