By Sydney Gibbs
When Shekinna Stricklen connected on a three-pointer from the wing and tied the game up 73 apiece late in the third quarter, the game was completely in the Atlanta Dream’s back pocket. The group, led by Betnijah Laney’s 24 points and 10 rebounds rallied back from a 18-point deficit and beat the Chicago Sky, 97-89 on Wednesday night.
Two other Dream players finished with double-doubles in the matchup with Courtney Williams scoring 20 points on 10-of-20 shooting, hauling in 10 rebounds, and Elizabeth Williams finished with 11 points and 10 boards.
“We looked bad at times out there,” said head coach Nicki Collen. “But I think when we got down eight and I jumped them as hard as I’ve ever jumped a group probably in my life. We won because we got stops and we didn’t do it because everyone played perfectly but we had really good synergy on defense. We did the little things that we needed to do.”
The Sky (11-10) owned the first half, shooting 53.5 percent from the field and took a double digit 55-45 lead at halftime. Poor defense by Atlanta gave Chicago an advantage to score easy transition points as they were outscored 34-25 in the second quarter alone.
Chicago took their biggest lead of the game in the third quarter, extending their lead to 18. Atlanta took a timeout early in the third and coach Collen stressed “defensive pride” to her team and to follow the game plan. That’s exactly what they managed to bring to the table and they went on an uphill climb for the remaining two quarters.
“Defense. I mean they had 34 points in the second quarter,” said Elizabeth Williams. “You’re not going to win games if teams score 100 on you. It was literally hunker down, get stops, get boards, and to do our thing. We did a really good job of that in the second half.”
The Dream held the Sky scoreless for three minutes and took control to go on a 10-0 scoring run to cut into their deep deficit. That strong offensive and defensive performance persisted into the fourth quarter as Laney’s layup at the start of the fourth quarter gave a 75-73 lead – their first lead since the start of the game.
The Dream led by as much as nine in the final minutes and rolled past the Sky in the second half of play, outscoring them 52-34. Overall, Atlanta had a solid offensive game, shooting 46.3 percent from the paint and an impressive 8-13 from three-point range.
Chennedy Carter also had significant contributions on the court and was excellent in the first half, scoring 14 of her 16 in that timeframe and also dishing out five assists. Blake Dietrick was a difference maker on the floor and came off the bench scoring 15 points and five assists.
The Dream improved to 6-14 on the season and are that much closer to securing that eighth and final playoff spot. As of right now, the Dallas Wings have that final spot and are one game ahead of Atlanta and the Washington Mystics, who also have six wins. This team has been through a lot and has had numerous up and down moments, but they have controlled their own destiny down the stretch to put them in the right position they are now.
“Being able to say ‘hey we still have a chance and we still gotta work and we gotta play’ – not for a moral victory but for something bigger than that and I think this group deserves it,” said Collen. “I think we’ve had the odds stacked against us from the beginning between opt-outs and Covid.
“To see them have some success and to see kind of what we’re capable of – we have to be better and we got to keep growing. We have enough good pieces that when they play together and play with good synergy, we can compete with anybody.”