Minneapolis – The Atlanta Dream aren’t known for being three-point shooters, but they sure looked like they were Sunday.
The WNBA’s No. 2 team connected on 40 percent of their shots from behind the arc – well over their season average of 29 percent – to pound the defending champion Minnesota Lynx, 86-66.
Tiffany Hayes shot six of those treys, en route to a season-high 28 points. Alex Bentley came off the bench for 19 points for the visitors, and Angel McCoughtry chipped in 11. Sylvia Fowles had 17 points and 10 rebounds for Minnesota, while Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore each added 15 points.
It was the first win for Atlanta at Target Center in nine years.
“I think it was a great win,” McCoughtry said. “We really grinded it out, it is tough to play here. We haven’t won in this gym since 2009. So yeah it was definitely nice to win. It had been nine years, so it feels good.”
From the opening tip, the rubber match between the the two teams looked poised to be a 40-minute battle, as the series was 1-1 with the playoff seeding tiebreaker on the line for the winner.
The first quarter was back and forth, with neither team leading by more than four points the whole way. Minnesota shot 47 percent to Atlanta’s 39-38, but only Fowles and Augustus scored for the hosts.
The script flipped in the second period, as the Dream began their three-point assault while keeping the Lynx from scoring on the defensive end. They took a 49-34 advantage into the break.
Moore hit two straight baskets to begin the third quarter, which cut Atlanta’s lead to 10. But the Dream made their shots and took advantage of the absence of Minnesota forward Rebekkah Brunson, who was fouled in the first half and was out for the rest of the game.
Atlanta dominated the last period, moving the ball effectively and using a balanced attack that saw nine of the 10 players who hit the floor score.
“I think we did well in the drive and kick tonight,” Hayes said. “Everybody was just finding the open man tonight. Everybody is learning to pack the paint against us, and we are learning to trust the pass. Everybody was trusting the pass and kicking it out, and we were knocking them down.”
The Dream are now 18-10 and have won two in a row, after seeing their eight-game winning streak snapped last week. The loss was the third straight for the Lynx, whose season has been uncharacteristically up and down.
Coach Cheryl Reeve said top scorers Fowles and Moore need to step up their play.
“If Maya Moore and Sylvia Fowles don’t play like our team’s best players, just like Tiffany Hayes plays, whoever their best players are, if we don’t have our best players playing at their best, it’s a big-time challenge for any team,” Reeve said. “Sometimes you get beat at the game plan, and your trust wavers in what you are doing.”
As in Minnesota’s previous two losses, their opponents out-hustled them down the stretch. Moore seemed at a loss for words when asked what the team needs to do to get over the hump.
“They came to play,” Moore said. They knocked down open shots. They executed their game plan.”
Fowles was just as somber, pointing to the basics of executing and doing the little things in order to win a game, and noting the team’s failure to get wins as the regular season draws to a close.
“It’s a group effort,” Fowles said. “Yes things are great when we are scoring, but when we are having rough patches and rough nights, it’s up to everybody to step up. If we can’t score we have to do the little things.”
Though Fowles finished with her league-best 17th double-double of the season, Reeve said the veteran center is reactive and needs to remain focused.
“Sylvia is too affected by stuff around her,” Reeve said. “She’s way too affected by things not going well, and so you’re up and down with her through the course of the game.”
Atlanta now returns home for a three-game stand, while the Lynx hit the road for two match ups.