Caught napping, Dream drop home opener to Sky 75-71

Layshia Clarendon scored 17 points for the Dream Sunday against the Chicago Sky.
Layshia Clarendon scored 17 points for the Dream Sunday against the Chicago Sky.

Not so fresh off their home opener, the Dream went about kicking themselves after kind of kicking up their heels for most of the final three quarters of their 75-71 loss to the Chicago Sky on Sunday afternoon.

For a moment, or at least a quarter, there were reasons to believe the Dream (2-1) might enter next Saturday’s visit by the defending WNBA champion Los Angeles Sparks still undefeated.

Then, the bottom fell out as if the Sky (1-2) sprang a trap door open.

A splendid opening quarter that saw the home team build a 24-14 lead on 10-of-17 shooting with Tiffany Hayes putting up eight of her 17 points began slipping into the ether of memory like smoke rising above a pile of clanked shots and air-balls.

Oh, the noise witnessed by 4,859 saw in Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion, where the Dream will play the next two seasons as Philips Arena is renovated.

The Dream made just 2-of-19 tries in the second quarter, and 15 of 55 (27.3 percent) over the final three.

“I think fatigue caught up with us a little bit, and we started chucking up a lot of 3’s (5 of 20) and that’s not we’re about,” coach Michael Cooper said. “We’re about drive-and-kick and getting 3’s that way.”

Fatigue kept coming up in conversations, and when asked for detail — considering that the Dream last played Friday in Chicago and that both teams had the same time and travel before re-matching Atlanta's 91-83 win — he offered edification.

The Dream did not lose on the court, he said, but between their ears.

After scoring seven of her 17 points in the fourth quarter, including a 3-pointer with 37 seconds left in the game that cut what just seconds earlier had been a nine-point deficit to 74-71, point guard Layshia Clarendon agreed.

Only one squad kept its focus Sunday.

“Our body language kind of looked bad,” Clarendon said. “We looked like we had already lost the game. We can’t have that, coach said, for even 30 seconds. We’ve got to look like we’re hungry the entire game …”

Even after a dreadful, eight-point period, the Dream led 32-28 at halftime.

The third quarter, though, was another mess.

Beyond scant improvement shooting (5 of 15), Atlanta was smoked on the boards 12-4 in the deciding period. The Dream had a 10-7 rebounding edge in that first quarter, and center Elizabeth Williams finished with a game-high 13 to go with seven points. But Chicago had a 36-27 glass advantage after that opening period.

“You have to do the little things, like box out,” Williams said. “A lot of times we were either out of position, or late getting to position so they could do whatever they wanted inside.”

Tamera Young gave the Sky the lead for good with a 20-foot jumper with 1:51 to go in the third, but that stroke for a 49-47 edge was a rare scissor cut.

Chicago made just 3 of 10 3-pointers overall, and the Sky battered Atlanta by outscoring the Dream by a whopping 32-14 in the paint over the final three quarters. Chicago’s big forward, Stephanie Dolson, scored 23 and many of point guard Cappie Pondexter’s 20 points came on rim attacks.

Down nine, Atlanta made a furious — if brief — comeback.

A trey by reserve forward Damiris Dantas (12 points) at 44.9, and another by Hayes at 37.4 drew the Dream to within 74-71. Sandwiched in between was a blocked shot by Dantas that Bria Holmes (13 points) saved from going out of bounds to start a fast break.

Clarendon rebounded missed Chicago’s final shot, and Atlanta called timeout with 18.6 seconds left. Williams’ last shot, a 3-pointer, whistled past the rim and out of bounds.

Clarendon rued a “golden opportunity” lost. Cooper sees correctable mistakes in attitude.

“[Chicago] was a team looking for revenge. It would have been different if we had lost to them there,” he said. “Our energy level might have stayed higher … I think it was a mental thing … Not making excuses; everybody does it.

“But we just played there, ruined their home opener. They had an opportunity to ruin ours, so it’s tit-for-tat.”

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