They never trailed.
From the opening seconds of the game, when center Elizabeth Williams got fouled and made a free throw to put the Dream up 1-0, the Dream never gave up their lead. It got to be as small as a one-point advantage in the third quarter, but the Dream always got the stop they needed to stay on top.
Leading wire to wire is new for this team, but you wouldn’t know it by watching them. The Dream were ready to do battle and held strong with their backs against the wall. And just 10 days after a 17-point loss at Minnesota, the Dream came out on top over the Lynx, 60-53.
“Just incredibly proud,” Collen said. “I really think we would’ve blown them out if we made some open shots from the arc. We’re so good when we touch the paint. But as much as anything, I’m just proud of how we defended. We just really dialed into the game plan once again.”
It wasn’t always pretty. The Dream shot just 33.8% and went 4-of-25 from beyond the arc. But their 45 total rebounds — just three below the season high — tell the story of the defensive battle the game became.
Until the win over Connecticut on Wednesday, the Dream hadn’t won a game by less than 10 points this season. The wins seemed to come when everything went right — when open shots fell, when the defense was locked in, when 50/50 balls went in their favor.
Friday night, not everything went right. Open 3-pointer after open 3-pointer missed the mark. The Dream turned the ball over 12 times and had their shots blocked five times.
But they found a way to win anyway.
“Even when they made their run at us, we never relinquished the lead,” Collen said. “Even staying up, it was 43-42. We just didn’t give up the lead, and this team knows how to play with a lead. They did all of last year. They weren’t huge leads, but they make big plays late. …
“If you can’t appreciate a grind it out, then we’re probably not the team for you, because we’ve gotta do that sometimes.”
Much of the credit for finding a way to win goes to the Dream’s defense. After Stephanie Talbot went for 24 points 10 days ago, the Dream held her to just one made shot. Odyssey Sims, who is averaging 16.2 points per game, shot 3-of-12 and scored just nine points. Tiffany Hayes put Sims in a box — and kept her there.
“You had two really good defenders guarding each other in that game with Sims and Hayes,” Collen said. “I just continue to think Tiffany Hayes is the best defensive 2-guard in this league, hands down, and you see her latest victim was Odyssey Sims. Odyssey Sims didn’t get loose all night. … I thought our on-ball defense was so good.”
“We’re flying around more,” Renee Montgomery added. “She didn’t really change the game plan, defensively. It’s just that we should’ve been doing that in the beginning. I was just telling our teammates that we’re starting to feel like us.”
On the offensive side of the ball, Williams continued her string of double-digit games. She’s scored a season-high 17 points in back-to-back games and has gone for double-digits in five of the Dream’s last six games.
Williams has struggled from the free throw line in her career. Now, she’s shooting a career-high 72%. Her defense has always been high level, and the offensive output is starting to match that.
“Elizabeth, dang, what a warrior,” Collen said. “She’s been so, so good the last five or six games. Her motor has been running really, really high. … I just think she’s a competitor. I just think her motor is running so high right now. I thought she finished and probably could’ve had a couple of and ones today. Just continues to figure out when and how to score in our offense.”
It’s no secret that the Dream got off to a slow start to the season. But they’ve now won three of their last four games, and they still have one game left in this homestand.
They’re gaining momentum every day and remembering what it feels like to win. A hot team is a dangerous team, and the Dream are heating up.