Aggressive, challenging defense served the Dream again Tuesday. Poking away balls, jumping into passing lanes and making the understaffed Indiana Fever labor for baskets, the Dream won easily, 76-60 at Philips Arena.
The formula has borne results. The Dream, who entered Tuesday’s games leading the WNBA in points allowed and opponent turnovers and ranking second in field-goal percentage defense and steals, improved to 8-1. It is the best start in franchise history and the top record in the league.
“We got a lot of steals (Tuesday) on defense,” forward Angel McCoughtry said. “It’s all about getting the stops. That’s how you get on a roll, and it opens up your offense and it makes the crowd go crazy.”
McCoughtry displayed aggressive form on defense, digging out steals in one-on-one situations, in traffic and while helping on double teams. She finished with seven steals, tying her career high, to go with 16 points and four assists. The Dream’s 16 steals tied their season high, which also is the league high for the season.
The Dream’s defense was perhaps at its peak in the second quarter. Trailing 20-12 late in the first quarter, the Dream went on a 17-0 run that gave them a nine-point lead that they never relinquished. From the 58.8-second mark in the first quarter when the Fever went ahead 20-12 until their next points with 4:48 left in the half, Indiana turned the ball over eight times (six via steals) and missed six shots from the floor.
“We’ve got to realize, with the season we’re having this year, we can’t come out lackadaisical,” McCoughtry said. “We’ve got to come out like a championship team, playing hard from the jump. But fortunately, our defense picked up second quarter.”
Rookie guard Courtney Clements gave the team a lift by coming off the bench to make a 3-pointer and another jump shot that put the Dream into the lead early in the second quarter.
For the game, Indiana (1-7) was limited to 36.1 percent shooting from the field. Its 60 points tied for the team’s season low. The Fever, the defending league champions, took the court with only eight players. They were missing, among others, 10-time All-WNBA forward Tamika Catchings (lower back) and guard Katie Douglas (bulging disc), a four-time All-WNBA pick. Former Georgia Tech star Sasha Goodlett was among reserves called upon to fill the void.
Fever coach Lin Dunn credited her team for its fight, but said, “We just didn’t have enough bullets in our gun.”
Dream center Erika de Souza led the team with 17 points and 10 rebounds, her second double-double of the season, to go with four blocks.
The game was played before an announced sellout crowd of 10,155 on a rare weekday noon start, a time arranged for the hordes of screaming, Thunderstix-beating day campers and boys and girls club members. A more subdued visitor to Philips Arena was Hawks forward Josh Smith, who watched from midcourt with his family.
“I loved it,” guard Alex Bentley said of the enthusiastic support. “I wish we had that every day.”