Dream can’t overcome early deficit in loss to Storm

51 seconds into Friday’s game against the Seattle Storm, Renee Montgomery opened the scoring with a 3-pointer. The crowd at State Farm Arena cheered, not knowing that the Dream’s only lead of the game was about to evaporate.

Within a minute and a half, the Seattle Storm took a one-point lead, and that was as close as the score would get the rest of the way. Once the reigning WNBA champions settled in on the offensive end of the floor, there was little the Dream could do to even the score. The deficit that at times was as large as 20 points proved too large to overcome as the Dream fell to Seattle, 82-66.

“Felt like more than (a) 16-point loss, I can tell you that,” said coach Nicki Collen. “It was a little bit of everything tonight. It wasn’t pretty.”

Atlanta wasn’t helped by its offensive output, either. In the first half, the Dream made just 2 of 14 attempted 2-pointers and shot 29.7% from the field. Seattle, on the other hand, went 2 for 5 from beyond the arc and shot 38.9% from the field.

“I thought early in the game we got great shots,” Collen said. “I thought we were moving the ball. I thought we were getting in transition. We were getting stops. I thought Renee (Montgomery) had a number of open looks. (Jessica) Breland had wide-open looks. I thought she was gonna start draining threes. … I thought we stopped moving the ball as well. The ball stuck.”

Forward Brittney Sykes battled for 12 first-half points, but it wasn’t enough to bring the Dream back into the game after 20 minutes. At the end of the first half, Seattle led by 18.

After a strong start to the third quarter, the Dream forced Storm interim coach Gary Kloppenburg to call a timeout with 5:47 left in the third stanza. Four points from guard Tiffany Hayes and a small 5-2 run to open the second half left the Dream trailing by just 11 when Kloppenburg called the timeout.

“I thought (our players) came out with a lot of energy in the third quarter,” Collen said. “We made a nice run to start the third quarter, forced a timeout, but (Seattle) made a couple tough shots.”

But as soon as play resumed, it was clear that the timeout was just what the Storm needed. The dream had chances, like when Hayes kicked a pass out to Sykes for a wide-open 3-pointer that missed the mark, but Seattle almost always followed up those missed chances with points of its own.

Within moments, Jordin Canada pushed the Storm’s lead back to 19 points, and it became clear that the Dream’s chances at victory were slim.

“At that point, I felt like, with a back to back, I had to sub and really live for another day,” Collen said. “In this league, you can’t put too much on one game even though you want to. We were going to play (the starters) as long as I thought we had a true chance to win the game.”

With a game Saturday night in Washington, D.C., Collen chose to substitute out her starters to give them extra rest ahead of the quick turnaround. In the final period, Haley Peters made her debut with the Dream and rookie Maite Cazorla made her WNBA debut.

“I thought Haley played hard,” Collen said. “I don’t think she necessarily played great, but I really wanted to roll her out there and see how she did. I think she’s a player that can stretch the floor.

“I think, as you saw, (Maite) knocked down the open shot. She had a good drive but missed the floater going to the rim. I think the kid can play and she’s really instinctual.”

After the loss to Seattle, the Dream are looking forward to turning around quickly to play Washington. Players and coaches alike want to get the taste of the loss out of their mouths, and the game provides an opportunity to bounce back from Friday’s poor offensive showing and defensive miscues.

“You’re not a competitor if you don’t want to put your uniform back on and play right away,” Collen said. “I don’t think anyone was happy, individually or collectively, with our performance tonight.”