By Sydney Gibbs
The Atlanta Dream (3-13) gained as much as a six-point lead over the Los Angeles Sparks (12-3) Sunday night, but missed baskets and crucial turnovers in the fourth quarter cost the Dream their fourth win of the season as they fell 84-79.
The Sparks extended their winning streak to nine games and clinched a spot in the WNBA Playoffs with the win.
“They just kept their foot on the gas,” said forward Monique Billings. “At times we didn’t match their energy. There were some possessions where we kind of lost focus. I blame myself for a couple of those plays down the stretch. It’s just something we have to learn from as a team and keep learning how to close out a game.”
The Dream had a 38-37 lead at halftime after center Elizabeth Williams pulled the team ahead with a layup, but the team had struggled to maintain that lead in the next two quarters. The Sparks have a track record for second-half rallies, and that was clearly the case in this matchup.
LA had a two-point lead going into the final quarter but rookie guard Chennedy Carter made a strong statement in the first minute of the fourth. She did what she does best, driving the ball to the rim to tie the game up at 58 apiece.
The Sparks struggled to score for three minutes through the fourth quarter – Brittany Sykes ended that scoring drought with a layup and swung the momentum back to Los Angeles. Sykes made shots down the stretch and helped LA reclaim a 78-74 lead with less than two minutes remaining. Costly miscues by the Dream gave the Sparks an avenue to take advantage and power through the rest of the game.
“I think if you look at the stretch from about five minutes to three minutes, we missed three layups and we had two turnovers,” said head coach Nicki Collen. “We were getting good shots, we were getting any shot we wanted, we were missing around the rim. It was that stretch when we were up two that we needed to push it to being up six or up eight so that they’re [Los Angeles] not in that comfortable mode.”
Los Angeles outscored Atlanta 47-41 in the second half. Overall, the Sparks had an easier time scoring from the paint, shooting a solid 50 percent from the field compared to the Dream’s 41 percent. Sykes led the Sparks in scoring with 15 points and Chelsea Gray added 14.
In just her second game back after sustaining an ankle injury on August 10, Carter scored in double digits with 26 points and pulling down four rebounds. Courtney Williams followed behind with 15 points and six rebounds. Billings recorded her fourth double-double of the season, scoring 12 points and grabbing 14 rebounds.
Carter regained her confidence in Sunday night’s game, bringing her fearlessness and explosiveness on offense that Atlanta had been lacking since her absence. Her double-digit performance is just the start of her getting back to normal.
“I feel like she just got her mojo back,” said Billings of Carter’s performance. “I was shooting with her yesterday and she just needs to get her bounce and her confidence back, and it looked like that’s what she was doing today. She wasn’t overthinking, she just looked free out there.”