Some thought the Atlanta Dream would need a miracle to beat Seattle in a single elimination playoff game; especially after their second leading scorer, Tiffany Hayes, was out with a one game suspension due to picking up her 7th technical foul of the season. Seattle was the second hottest team in the WNBA entering the playoffs, after going 7-3 in their final 10 games after returning from the 2016 Olympic break. Well as things turned out, Atlanta didn’t need a miracle. All they needed was an Angel.
This game was a story of two halves. The first half in which Seattle played well, had terrific ball movement, and were getting strong contributions from their young star players in Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd. Stewart would lead the way in the first half with 15 points, closely followed by Loyd’s 12 points. But one thing that was consistent in both halves of this ball game was the Dream’s Angel McCoughtry. She led the way for Atlanta in the first half with 15 points, and was even more unstoppable in the second half, scoring 22 points, for a game high 37 points.
Seattle did not shoot well in the first quarter. And Angel McCoughtry was on fire, scoring 10 points in the first. Atlanta also seemed to get away with a lot of contact that didn’t seem to be called early on in the game. Seattle managed to keep it close and trailed Atlanta by just one, 19-18, after the first quarter.
Seattle used a 9-0 run in the second quarter to take a 30-23 lead. Breanna Stewart showed no signs of rookie jitters by scoring 15 in the first half. One of the best plays of the quarter, was when Sue Bird attacked the basket and hooked a pass over her shoulder between two Dream defenders, allowing Crystal Langhorne to get an easy basket and draw the foul. Jewell Loyd was also very aggressive attacking the basket and drawing fouls. She had 12 points in the first half. For Atlanta, it was all about Angel McCoughtry. McCoughtry had 15 points herself and kept Atlanta close. Seattle did their best to distance themselves in the 2nd quarter by out-scoring Atlanta 27-18. Seattle led 45-37 at the mid-way point.
Unfortunately, Angel McCoughtry would not be denied in the third quarter. Rallying the dream all by herself. Atlanta started off the 3rd quarter with a 7-0 run. And then had another 6-0 run in the middle of the quarter. And then another 7-2 run at the end of the 3rd quarter. All of this resulted in the Storm allowing the Dream to get right back into the game. It appeared Seattle and Atlanta would go down to the wire as they were all tied up 66-66 as they entered the fourth and final quarter of their seasons.
Seattle continued to struggle in the fourth quarter. They were missing shots, they were having calls go against them. The team was very frustrated and not playing their best basketball. Atlanta’s Michael Cooper implemented a zone defense in the second half that gave Seattle all kinds of fits. Seattle went ice cold from the field and was not able to find a way to break Atlanta’s zone defense. Meanwhile, the only thing that stopped Angel McCoughtry was a huge collision with Breanna Stewart while McCoughtry attempted to steal a cross-court pass. McCoughtry would lay on the floor for several minutes, with the wind knocked out of her and she would be forced to leave the game for several minutes of the 4th quarter. However, before she left she scored a whopping 37 points on 14-21 shooting, including 3-4 from the 3-point line.
Seattle was out-scored by 17 in the entire second half and frankly it was even worse than that. Seattle was able to score six unanswered points in garbage time in the final minute after Atlanta had already started celebrating their victory.
Ultimately, it appears this loss can be attributed to a few things. First and foremost is an all-time performance by Angel McCoughtry. Take nothing away from the talented forward for the Atlanta Dream. For a long time, McCoughtry has been one of the best players in the WNBA and she really proved it tonight. Seattle put several defenders on her, Alysha Clark, Jewell Loyd, Noelle Quinn, and none of them were able to slow her down. Angel was even hitting off balance shots with two defenders in her face. There really was nothing Seattle could have done to stop her on this night. But McCoughtry wasn’t alone, Bria Holmes made up for the lack of Tiffany Hayes by scoring 21 points and also pulling down seven rebounds. And after winning the WNBA’s Most Improved Player Award, Elizabeth Williams did not disappoint for the Dream. Despite getting into foul trouble, Williams was a major force on the defensive end. She scored 9 points, grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds, and blocked three shots.
The Dream’s head coach Michael Cooper, very smartly, waited until the second half to get into a Zone defense. This really prevented Seattle from attacking the interior and getting easier baskets like they did in the second quarter. This was a risky tactic by Cooper as the Storm are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league and 3-pointers will often break a Zone very quickly. However, unfortunately for Seattle, the Storm just did not hit their 3-pointers in the second half. In total, Seattle went 7-23 for 30%, but most of those makes were in the first half. This included poor 3-point shooting from Sue Bird (2-6), Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis (1-4), and Jewell Loyd (3-9). A lot of Loyd’s 3-point attempts were late in the 4th quarter trying to hit 3’s to cut Atlanta’s double-digit lead in the fourth period.
And unfortunately, another reason was that the veteran’s did not bring their A game to this playoff game. Sue Bird struggled with 12 points on 5-14 FG shooting, but even some of those were scored at the very end of the game in garbage time. Alysha Clark had eight points, but four of those game in the final minute as Atlanta stopped playing defense after securing the victory. Crystal Langhorne only had seven points and only played 20 minutes. And while not a veteran, Ramu Tokashiki ended up taking a lot of Langhorne’s minutes in this game and it did not work out. Tok only managed five points and four rebounds in 20 minutes. She also got beat several times down low by Atlanta’s stronger post players.
Seattle will look back with a lot of “What if’s” on this playoff game in Atlanta. One of the hottest teams in the WNBA entering the playoffs, playing a team they had beaten twice already, who were without their second leading scorer. And a win would have given them another single-elimination playoff game against the Chicago Sky. Who the Storm just beat by 13, 88-75 last weekend. And who would almost certainly be without their best player Elena Delle Donne. This Storm team had what appeared to be a great opportunity to reach the WNBA Playoff Semi-Finals. But ultimately, it wasn’t meant to be. Atlanta’s prayers were answered by an Angel.
Sadly the 2016 season ends with a disappointing loss in Atlanta. We will now look forward to what Storm President and General Manager, Alisha Valavanis, is able to do to strengthen this exciting young team via Free Agency and the 2017 WNBA Draft.