The Atlanta Dream made their final regular-season home game one to remember, just not for the right reasons.
The Dream picked Fan Appreciation Day to have their worst shooting performance in three weeks and dropped a 79-71 decision Sunday to the Phoenix Mercury. In seeing a three-game winning streak broken, Atlanta shot only 32.1 percent from the floor and failed to sew up the No. 2 spot in the WNBA’s Eastern Conference.
“We had some shots — and they were open shots — that just didn’t go down for us,” Dream coach Fred Williams said.
A boisterous Philips Arena crowd of 9,740 watched the Dream’s worst shooting performance since they made only 28.6 percent against Chicago on Aug. 24. The poor shooting came at a regrettable time, as the Dream got behind by as many as 19 points in the second quarter before trying to claw their way back.
“It’s about a game of runs,” Williams said. “Phoenix built up a big lead but we were two or three shots away from trying it or going up. The team really regrouped in the second half and came back strong.”
One of the turning points came with 6:46 left in the third quarter. Brittney Griner, Phoenix’s 6-foot-8 rookie center, was called for a technical foul after getting tangled up with Atlanta’s Erika DeSouza, forcing officials to separate the two.
But Atlanta couldn’t capitalize. Angel McCoughtry missed the free throw and the Dream didn’t score on the ensuing possession. The motivated Mercury went on a 9-2 run to pull ahead by 17.
“It was tough to come away empty there, but it happens,” Williams said.
The Dream continued to slug their way back into it, closing to 74-71 when McCoughtry made the second of two free throws. After Phoenix threw the ball away, McCoughtry had a chance to tie it, but missed a 3-pointer. Another turnover gave Atlanta another chance and McCoughtry missed a jumper in the lane.
“Looking at the stat sheet, we had 78 shots and 25 made,” Williams said. “Usually you get more of those made, but Phoenix did a good job on pick-and-roll plays and their transition game getting us on the back side. So we have to get into practice and work on those things harder.”
McCoughtry scored 25 points to lead Atlanta (17-14) and Tiffany Hayes, whose playing time was limited because of a nagging knee injury, came off the bench to score 19. Phoenix (17-13) got 25 points, nine rebounds and six assists from veteran guard Diana Taurasi and Griner had 13 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots.
“The momentum kept swinging the other way,” Atlanta guard Armintie Herrington said. “Every time we would get a good break, it just went the other way. We didn’t make a lot of shots, either. When you’re playing a team like this, you have to put the ball in the basket.”
If the Dream want to hold onto the No. 2 spot in the conference, they’ll need to play better when away from Philips Arena. Atlanta closes the season with three road games at Connecticut, Chicago and San Antonio. The Dream are 4-10 on the road and 0-5 on the road against the West.
“It’s important,” Williams said. “We’ve had our struggles on the road, but that’s been when we haven’t been at full strength. Now that we’ve got Tiffany Hayes back, that’s going to help us going on the road.”