By Bailey Johnson
When coach Nicki Collen called a timeout with the Dream down 6-0 early in the first quarter, she thought she was watching the same bad movie all over again. During the Dream’s five-game losing streak, three of those games began with Atlanta getting into a large deficit in the first quarter.
“We obviously got off to a similar start to some that we’ve gotten off to,” Collen said. “But when I called the timeout down 6-0 and really challenged them, I think we were pretty good from then on out. After a game that we turned the ball over 21 times, to turn around against Indiana and only turn it over six times is a testament to a lot of what we talked about today. Our execution was at a different level, without question.”
This time, the Dream flipped the script. Shots that haven’t fallen in the last five games fell. Balls that were handed to the other team stayed under the Dream’s possession. A hotly contested, back-and-forth affair ended with the Dream on top of the Indiana Fever, 88-78.
“I think we were due,” Collen said. “I think we were due for a good quarter. I do think this team still believes. I don’t think we ever lost the locker room. … I think what we’ve battled so far this year is kind of the expectation and the idea of you still have to grind and you still have to make progress every day and compete on every possession. That’s what we’ve done.”
After Collen’s timeout in the first quarter, the Dream cut the Fever’s lead to only one point. Tiffany Hayes made a 3-pointer and two free throws in that stretch — the first signs of the season-high 28-point performance she’d turn in.
And while Hayes was the only Dream player in double figures after the first half, Renee Montgomery and Elizabeth Williams got going in the second half to finish with 16 and 10 points, respectively. Montgomery extended her streak of games with a made 3-pointer to 12 — and she went 4-of-9 from beyond the arc in the win.
“We just finally hit some shots,” Hayes said. “We were really in sync on the offensive end for the most part. We moved the ball well. Coach said the ball had a lot of energy, and all of us were knocking down shots today. We’ve been putting in a lot of work trying to fix the problem. Lord knows we’ve all been wanting to knock down shots because they’ve been open, and today’s the start of a new day.”
Hayes, too, found her stroke from deep with a 4-for-6 effort from 3-point range. She entered Wednesday morning’s game needing 24 points to score 3,000 points in her career, and her 28-point effort proved that she’s back in form after an ankle injury earlier this season.
“When Tiffany plays like that, we all saw what first-team All-WNBA Tiffany Hayes looks like or can look like,” Collen said. “She’s aggressive at the rim. … You saw her start to give it up, get to the rim. Understanding — we’ve spent so much time in video on, ‘Did someone square you up as you drive and you need to give it up? Or is someone on your hip and you can go finish it?’ ”
In a game where the lead changed 13 times and the score was tied 13 times, it felt as though the game may come down to the wire. But late in the third quarter, after the Fever were whistled for a 3-second violation, the Dream pulled away for good.
The score was never closer than a two-point lead after that point, and on multiple occasions the Dream were able to stretch the lead to as many as 11 points. The momentum had firmly shifted in the Dream’s favor, and they weren’t about to let that slip away.
“I think that’s a momentum thing,” Collen said. “Any time you can battle around those rims and pick up those calls — I don’t think that was the call that changed it, but it was a combination of trapping and rotating and getting them kind of out of a rhythm of what they were doing and then taking shots.”
After getting blown out in losses to Seattle and Las Vegas, dropping a close game to Connecticut and giving up a halftime lead at Dallas, the Dream fought their way back into the winning column.
The road doesn’t get much easier from here, with a trip to the league-leading Sun on Friday before facing the Washington Mystics at home on Sunday, but the losing streak has been snapped.
The pressure that comes with a winless skid is off, and the Dream can now focus on the next game without thinking about what could’ve been.