Dream outrun Sparks, 81-71

Los Angeles – The Atlanta Dream stepped up their defense in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Sparks to run away with an 81-71 win.

Angel McCoughtry led four Atlanta players in double figures with 19 points, which included 15 in the first half. Brittney Sykes came off the bench to add 13 points. Chelsea Gray headed up the effort for Los Angeles, with 18 points, while Candace Parker added 17 points and nine rebounds.

The game was even most of the way, as the two teams exchanged leads 13 times and had 15 ties through the third quarter. A Gray layup at the 7:03 mark in the fourth period gave the Sparks what proved to be their last lead of the game, 67-66, as the Dream went on a 9-0 run that was stopped five minutes later when Gray hit a pair of free throws.

Los Angeles players were visibly frustrated by the Atlanta defense down the stretch, and the loss was their fifth straight at home. They were missing starting guard Alana Beard, out with a groin strain, and starting forward Nneka Ogwumike, suffering from an illness, for the third straight game.

The Sparks declined to comment on Ogwumike’s illness, which is also keeping her out of Saturday’s All-Star game.

Dream coach Nicki Collen said her team capitalized on the absences of their opponents in the game.

“We had to get to their legs, and knowing that they only played seven players…..we kept saying, if we stay close…..we can pull away in the fourth,” Collen said. “We’ll keep our guys fresher, and I think you saw that.”

“As they got tired legs, they became easier to screen, and so all of a sudden, our set plays coming out of timeouts turned into easy layups and shots. And then they started missing some shots…….so much of that can be attributed to fatigue.”

Los Angeles coach Brian Agler said his team has lacked toughness of late.

“We need to fix our mentality,” he said. “We need to get back to being much gritter than we are right now, and that affects all facets of the game. We aren’t possessing grit, and we need that to be champions.”

The Dream improved to 16-9 with the win, which put them in second place in league standings going into All-Star break. Los Angeles, now 15-11, are tied for fourth with the Phoenix Mercury.