As seems to be the theme of the 2019 season, the Dream were close, but not close enough, against the Liberty on Sunday.
New York started the game with a 4-0 lead, but Atlanta quickly locked down on defense and took the lead for a brief moment of the first quarter. However, the lead didn’t last, and the Liberty slowly but steadily pulled away, leading to a 74-58 final score.
“Actually, a lot of good things tonight, other than the outcome,” said Dream coach Nicki Collen. “I thought we really battled. I thought defensively, we were good enough to win this basketball game.”
The Dream’s defense, which has had an up-and-down start to the 2019 campaign, came together for a strong performance. The Liberty didn’t make a 3-pointer until there were just 33 seconds left in the game, and while Tina Charles scored 17 points in the first half, she added just seven in the second half.
On an individual level, Elizabeth Williams blocked four shots and grabbed eight rebounds as the leader of the Dream’s defense inside. And across the whole defense, there was clear engagement and understanding of what needed to be done to limit the Liberty.
“I thought Elizabeth Williams flew around,” Collen said. “She played a lot of minutes. I thought early, she was really, really good. I thought she got tired at the end. Defensively, we made Tina inefficient. (Kia) Nurse, who’s kinda been going off on people, I thought Tiffany (Hayes) did a really good job on her.
“For the most part, I thought defensively, we were on point with our assignments. We got enough stops to win this basketball game.”
But while the defense seemed to figure things out, the offense continued to struggle.
“These guys know, they’re professionals,” Collen said. “You’re not gonna win basketball games shooting 27%. You’re just not. And if you’re gonna shoot 27%, you gotta go get offensive rebounds and we didn’t do either.”
It isn’t that the shots weren’t open. Renee Montgomery was wide open for the majority of her 13 shots in the game, but only two of her 11 tries from beyond the arc went in. Brittney Sykes, who led the team with 18 points, found success from 3-point range with a four-of-five effort, but even she shot 7-of-16 overall.
And fixing the offensive problems when the main issue is that open, good shots aren’t falling isn’t simple. It isn’t a matter of better shot selection or creating new plays, because the shots the Dream are getting are wide-open. The ball simply has to go in.
“Shots are either gonna fall or they’re gonna rim in and out,” Sykes said. “But like coach said, we got some good looks early on in the game. We just have to step up and make them. Once we start making them, it’s like hot potato. Everyone starts hitting their shots. We have the utmost confidence in Renee hitting her threes. We have the utmost confidence in (Williams) making a layup. … We know it goes in. We practice them all the time, so we just (need to) translate it to the game and knock them down.”
As the Dream look to snap a three-game losing skid at Minnesota on Tuesday, figuring out the offense will be key. The defense has stepped up, and now it’s time for shots to fall. If the offense continues to struggle, it doesn’t seem like a strong defensive effort will be enough to get the Dream back in the win column.