By Bailey Johnson
With 4.8 seconds left in regulation, Chelsea Gray’s desperation jump shot found twine. The Dream trailed by two with barely more than a breath’s worth of time left to get the win.
Dream coach Nicki Collen drew up a play for Tiffany Hayes off an inbounds pass from the right side of the floor. Hayes drove to the left, beating Tierra Ruffin-Pratt, and found herself with a wide-open lane to the basket. The layup fell — after all, it was Hayes with the ball in her hands — and the Dream looked to overtime with a chance to win their third-straight game.
But in overtime, the Dream’s early three-point lead evaporated behind back-to-back 3-pointers from the Sparks. When the final buzzer rang, the Sparks took home the win, 76-71.
“Just really proud of our group,” Collen said. “Really proud of how we executed down the stretch, even getting in a late-game situation out of timeouts. Even with four seconds on the shot clock, our baseline out of bounds, which is something we haven’t run. A standard back screen, Elizabeth (Williams) near the basket opened up the floor for Tiffany to get in isolation, one-on-one, and her finishing at the rim. We executed really well down the stretch.”
For the Dream, small, seemingly minor mistakes had a big impact. A five-point deficit can be as small as missing one shot and not getting a stop at the other end, making the margin for error nearly nonexistent.
“We had a few mistakes,” Collen said. “I think if Elizabeth doesn’t get her feet tangled up with Nneka (Ogwumike) when there’s one on the shot clock on that baseline out of bounds — those are the plays that become the difference between winning and losing.”
As has been the theme of late, the Dream’s defense was efficient, effective and, at times, smothering. Gray, one of the league’s best guards, went for 10 points on just 4-of-12 shooting.
The game was physical and contentious, as expected in a matchup that goes to overtime. The Dream never backed down from the fight. They battled for loose ball after loose ball and blocked eight shots over the course of the game.
“It’s just our identity,” Hayes said. “We haven’t been like that throughout the season, and we’re starting to get back to it. I think that was the main thing coming into the game. Keep our intensity on defense because that’s who we are, that’s how we stay in games, that’s how we win games.”
And while the defense remained energetic in the Dream’s third game in five days, the offense looked more like the Dream’s offense from the early part of the season. Atlanta made just two 3-pointers — out of 19 attempts — and shot 32.9% overall.
In close games like this one, turning a few of those misses from beyond the arc into makes could’ve made all the difference.
“I thought we did what we needed to do defensively, but it’s hard to win games going 2-for-19 from the arc,” Collen said. “I would guess that of those 17 misses, 12 of them might have been unguarded. We just have to make a higher percentage of those to consistently win. We’re gonna win some games with those kind of numbers, but we’re not gonna consistently win going 2-for-19 from the arc.”
Going to overtime in the third game of the week is undeniably challenging, and the Dream looked to have tired legs as the game dragged on.
But the Dream don’t have much time to rest from here on out. The team will play four games in six days before the All-Star break, with two of those games at Connecticut and Washington, who top the Eastern Conference.
A couple of wins before the break could help the Dream build momentum and then return with fresh legs and the momentum that comes with important road wins.
But first, the Dream have to find the energy to get those wins.