Fluid basketball, the first half was not. Atlanta and Minnesota combined to average a turnover per minute (12 for Minnesota, 8 for Atlanta). Sylvia Fowles was hampered in the paint by the likes of Jessica Breland and Imani McGee-Stafford, who started in place of Elizabeth Williams. Although Fowles got her fifth straight double-double with 13 points and 15 rebounds, the Dream stayed with her on post-ups and put-back opportunities. That resulted in four turnovers for Fowles, a number she had avoided for a while.
“I tried to stay connected to her at all times,” McGee-Stafford said. “Then my teammates, anytime she got a touch, they tried to swarm her and make her shoot over three bodies.”
Lynx miscues weren’t the only thing causing fits for a team accustomed to early runs. McGee-Stafford capitalized on her first start of the season by converting inside, while Brittney Sykes brought outside scoring off the bench. Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve picked up a technical foul over her disagreements with the officiating, and the 39-36 lead Minnesota held at halftime was not a focal point in the locker room.
“We came in at half time and talked about our turnovers, we talked about having to play cleaner so they don’t get their hands on as many passes…making sure we’re keeping it simple,” said Lynx forward Maya Moore.
The Dream were prepared for Fowles. The outside shooters for the Lynx? Not so much. Minnesota opened the third quarter on a 15-4 run, started by a pair of Lindsay Whalen jumpers off of screens set by Fowles. Those were the only baskets Whalen hit, but she had plenty of help from the perimeter. Moore knocked down a few triples, Seimone Augustus found her mid-range stroke and Danielle Robinson showcased her speed.
“We definitely hit a growth spurt and you’re definitely seeing it as we play,” Fowles said.
The start of the fourth quarter offered a glimpse of said growth. Fowles blocked a layup attempt by Brittany Sykes, then dished the ball to Robinson, and one of the league’s quickest players sprinted down the floor for a layup. The Lynx led grew to 21 at one point, and affirmed this club’s long-time habit of answering adversity.
“Things aren’t always going to work my way…That still won’t stop me from doing other things like just trying to play good defense, making sure I rebound the ball and making sure I impact in other ways,” Fowles said.
While Minnesota’s impact reached its maximum, Atlanta couldn’t do the same with their top players. Angel McCoughtry, who hit the game-winner in the last meeting between the two teams, scored six points. Amazingly, that was four more than Montgomery earned, with the former Lynx player failing to make a field goal.
“They made consecutive shots in a row. We didn’t get enough stops in a row,” she said. “We missed some shots that we normally make.”
The only Dream starter to reach double-digits was McGee-Stafford with 15, and Sykes finished with 14. Atlanta should get some help with the return of Tiffany Hayes, who scored five points in limited minutes on Friday.