As the Dream picked up Sunday where they left off Friday, they offered no early sign that their best defensive showing of the season was to come, let alone that they would rally to a 90-77 rout of the visiting Sun.
Angel McCougthry went on to do her thing, scoring 13 of her 18 points in the second half, and rookie Reshanda Gray scored a career-high 18 off the bench in her seventh game since being traded from the Lynx.
This, though, came down to — surprise! — defense.
Atlanta entered the day lagging the WNBA in points allowed, surrendering 81.4 per game.
The Dream (9-15) left Philips Arena with just their second win in nine games after holding the Sun (12-12) without a field goal for eight minutes, 26 seconds across the third and fourth quarters.
The Dream’s 12th different starting lineup was dazed early as the Sun made seven of their first nine shots. Less than 48 hours after blowing a 16-point third-quarter lead and falling to the Lynx, Dream head coach Michael Cooper called two timeouts less than five minutes into the game.
Eventually, the Dream blocked out the Sun.
“That’s been one of our Achilles’ heels this year, sustaining good defensive consistency,” Cooper said. “I love the fact that we were attentive to where we could jump from man-to-man to [zones]. That had to be one of our best [defensive efforts].”
It didn’t start out that way with Aneika Henry moving into the lineup after Roneeka Hodges was lost to a calf injury Friday.
With forwards Damiris Dantas and Sancho Lyttle and guards Shoni Schimmel also on the floor, the defense was a mess while the Sun bolted to a 20-6 lead on Camille Little’s 3-pointer with 4:59 left in the first quarter. Lyttle said, “The lineup, we’d never played with it before.”
Atlanta worked back with better defense and improved offense.
After missing Friday with a knee injury, Tiffany Hayes came off the bench to score 10, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that pulled Atlanta to within 42-39 at halftime.
With Hayes starting the second half over Henry and Gray playing more in the front court, the Dream kept improving.
After Jasmine Thomas hit a trey for a 57-52 Sun lead with 4:01 left in the third quarter, Connecticut did not score again from the field until Nikki Green stuck back a rebound with 5:35 remained in the game.
That merely pulled the Sun to within 74-61, ending Atlanta’s 29-7 run. The Sun missed 14 consecutive shots.
“We were just moving around and talking more, telling each other if something happened,” Lyttle said. “If we missed somebody, we knew whose spot it was and corrected it.”
McCoughtry said a shot at the postseason can still happen even though Atlanta has work to do for the last playoff spot in the East.
“I think we were more aggressive,” she said of the defensive improvement. “ We wanted it a little more [because of] the playoffs. What other way should you be than to believe?”
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