The Atlanta Dream have solved the perimeter, while the Minnesota Lynx search for answers.
MINNEAPOLIS — Three-point shooting and the Atlanta Dream haven’t mixed well over the last few years, but you wouldn’t know it Sunday night. Perimeter shooting paved the way for Atlanta’s 86-66 win over the Minnesota Lynx at Target Center.
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Atlanta (18-10) hit 12 of 30 shots from three-point range, far outpacing Minnesota’s (15-13) 3-of-13 clip. Six triples belonged to Tiffany Hayes, fueling a season-high 28 points. Alex Bentley added three more treys en route to 19 points off the bench.
“We did well in the drive and kick,” Hayes said. “Everybody was trusting the pass and kicking it out and we were knocking them down.”
Atlanta’s bevy of three-pointers was the result of wide open spaces behind the arc. With Minnesota’s help defense keying on the inside, they couldn’t rotate quickly enough to contain whoever was outside, and Atlanta held a 49-34 lead at halftime. The Lynx briefly put a stop to the Dream’s ambitions in the third quarter, but they couldn’t do so long enough to appease the 9,333 in attendance.
“I knew if we really pushed the tempo and kept at it, we might be able to get them in the third quarter, or late in the third and into the fourth,” Atlanta head coach Nicki Collen told reporters after the game.
While the Dream’s performance behind the arc was something to admire, their transition defense denied the Lynx a few opportunities to swing the momentum. Angel McCoughtry got a stop on Lindsay Whalen, and Imani McGee-Stafford picked up one of her two blocks on a driving Temi Fagbenle. That block was a source of amusement in the Dream locker room, with McGee-Stafford claiming to lose her shoe for the first time as a player.
“What happened was Slim (Brittney Sykes) stopped in the middle of the key, so I couldn’t sprint by (her). I was trying to run to my player!” McGee-Stafford said as laughs ensued. “It worked out.”
If anyone was wondering, McGee-Stafford had no trouble putting her shoe back on, and her Atlanta teammates have encountered little difficulty upholding a positive locker room vibe. Sure, winning 10 of your last 11 games can make any team giddy, but their chemistry should not be underestimated. The Dream have the best defensive rating in the league and a solid one-two scoring punch in Hayes and Angel McCoughtry. Even if their three-point stroke is lacking, they have a strong foundation for a deep playoff push.
“They’re such a fun group to play with. They’re easy to play with,” Bentley said.
“We’ve just been preaching ‘trust the pass.’ Drive in there and make the extra pass. They’re seeing the fruits of their labor. Then the message becomes that much easier to share, when they start having success,” Collen said.
If the score wasn’t deflating enough for Lynx fans, Rebekkah Brunson left the game in the second quarter after she took an elbow to the nose from Hayes. Brunson returned to the bench with an ice pack, but an extended absence from Minnesota’s glue player would be a substantial blow for a team still scraping to make the playoffs.
Atlanta’s victory keeps them a game ahead of Los Angeles for the second seed in the standings, while Minnesota sits in seventh place. The playoff race is still tight enough for the Lynx to move up a few positions, but losing three straight games to the top three teams in the standings won’t inspire much optimism.
“When we’re having rough patches of rough nights, it’s up to everybody just to step up,” said Lynx center Sylvia Fowles.