Tuesday's game in Seattle featured the 2nd best team in the Eastern Conference (Atlanta) versus the 2nd worst team in the Western Conference (Seattle). However, the WNBA is a league that has very strong parity. Even the worst teams can win on any given night. Heading into the season, I had projected the Dream to place 2nd worst in the entire league, just ahead of the San Antonio Stars. But an incredible hot start (6-1 in their first 7) and the emergence of second year player out of Duke, Elizabeth Williams; allowed Atlanta to become the number one team in the Eastern Conference until last week. After tonight's loss to Seattle, the Dream have now dropped 6 out of their last 8 games.
This game was an excellent barometer for both teams. Seattle has been either the last in or the first out of the playoff standings for most of the year. Atlanta got off to their scorching start, but have faded. We ended up getting a high quality game between two teams that will likely both be vying for playoff spots later this summer.
Seattle led most of the game, including a double digit lead on a few occasions. But the Dream would rally multiple times and even took the lead in the 4th quarter. With 4:19 left to play, the Dream would take the lead in the game, 73-70 on an Angel McCoughtry turn-around jump shot. Atlanta was up 81-77 with 1:38 left in the game; however, Seattle would end the game on a 7-0 run. Five of those points were scored by Breanna Stewart, who set a new career high with 38 points in the game. But it was Sue Bird who hit the dagger, to put Seattle up three (84-81) with just under nine seconds to play.
When asked if she was surprised Atlanta decided not to foul on the last possession, Coach Jenny Boucek had this to say after the game:
"I was (surprised). There was less than two seconds differential. Yeah, we thought they were going to foul. I can't tell you what they were thinking, you'd have to ask them. That whole play didn't go like we had expected. I thought they were going to foul. I probably would have just liked to see the shot clock expire and give the ball back with one second. But I absolutely love Sue's killer instinct. She went for the jugular. That's the Sue that won championships. She went straight for the throat with that play."
Atlanta used a balanced attack to keep the game close throughout most of the game. The Dream had four players in double-figures, led by Angel McCoughtry's 22 points, Elizabeth Williams (21), Bria Holmes (15), and Matee AJavon (10). McCoughtry is well known for her scoring ability and has been the primary star player of the Dream for several years, including three trips to the WNBA Finals, including 2010 where they would be swept by the Storm. However, I was most impressed with Elizabeth Williams.
The die-hard Storm fans well know, Elizabeth Williams was a top prospect in the 2015 WNBA Draft, where Seattle happened to own the 1st and 3rd picks in the draft. Once Jewell Loyd and Amanda Zahui B declared for the draft, I wanted to see the Storm take Loyd #1 overall and take Elizabeth Williams with the third pick. It seemed to make a lot of sense as the team was in desperate need of a SG and a Center. Seattle opted to go for the more accomplished college scorer in Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis with the third overall choice. And interestingly enough, Elizabeth Williams did not do much of anything while playing for Connecticut last season and she was traded to the Atlanta Dream for the 4th overall pick in the 2016 WNBA Draft. Since being traded to Atlanta, Elizabeth Williams, has really started to shine in her role with the Dream. She is having a breakout season in her Sophomore year in the league. Her minutes have nearly tripled, but so have her stats. Williams has gone from scoring 3.3 ppg in 2015 to 12.4 ppg in 2016; 2.5 Blocks per game compared to 0.9 in 2015. And she's averaging 7.0 rebounds a game this season, compared to just 3.4 last season.
I spoke with Coach Jenny Boucek, Crystal Langhorne and Breanna Stewart about the impressive Center out of Duke. Here's what they had to say:
Coach Jenny Boucek on the play of Atlanta's Elizabeth Williams:
"Wow, I mean, huge improvement. I don't know who'd be more of a front runner for Most Improved Player. We just didn't have an answer for her. She was very impressive. I liked her a lot coming out of college. But she's playing a lot better than she did even at Duke. Very, very impressed by her and happy for her ... she's really found her way already in this league."
Breanna Stewart talked about Elizabeth Williams and had this to say:
"Elizabeth and I, we've known each other a long time. We played USA Basketball, when we were 14 together. So to see her doing so well and finding team that really works well for her, it's really cool to see. And I think we're both rooting for each other."
Crystal Langhorne on the Dream's Elizabeth Williams and her thoughts on her and Stewie's performances:
"Yeah, I was just talking to Krystal about Elizabeth. She's a very talented post-player. She has good moves around the rim. And for me a Stew, I think we just ran a lot of good stuff. I think they put a lot of attention on our guards; especially Jewell. And that opened up things. Things are always a little more open for me because people focus so much attention on Stewie and Jewell, but Stewie still had it going anyways (laughs). It was a really good night for us."
Langhorne also talked about Stewart's impressive game tonight:
"Stewie is a very special player. Even when I watch her play, I'm like (goes wide-eyed), you know? With a lot of things that she does. I think she's really showing people what she can do. Even being able to play with the physicality of the league. I know some people, see that she's skinny. But she's very tough."
Key Notes from tonight's game:
*Breanna Stewart set a new career high 38 points, which topped her UConn career high by 1 point (37).
*Stewart has led Seattle in scoring for 5 straight games now.
*Seattle shot 69% from the floor in the first quarter, to get out to an early 27-19 lead.
*Recently acquired Noelle Quinn and Krystal Thomas were the first two players off the bench for the Storm.
*Monica Wright did not play at all and appears to be in the dog house, as Quinn got all of her minutes.
*Seattle had 20 assists on 30 made baskets, compared to the Dream's 11 assists on 34 made shots.
*Seattle went 18-20 from the foul line. Atlanta was 10-19.
*Atlanta out-rebounded Seattle 37-27, including 16 offensive boards.
Seattle has one more home game this Thursday at KeyArena at 7:00pm against the Dallas Wings (7-9), before going on a three game road trip.