A veteran team shows how to win
ATLANTA — The Dream squeaked a 76-72 win out over Dallas in Atlanta’s season opener at State Farm Arena. Here’s what we learned.
Jessica Breland led Atlanta with 17 points, six rebounds and two blocks, Renee Montgomery added 15 points and four assists and Brittney Sykes added 10 points and four assists.
The Dream looked sloppy for most of the game, with plenty of missed passes and shots and miscommunication. Dallas grabbed 17 offensive rebounds.
“It was ugly, but I think we did what we do, and that’s battle,” head coach Nicki Collen said during a post-game press conference. “It’s a little like the start of last season for us where it takes a little time to get everybody on the same page, but we just don’t give up. I don’t think that anyone on our bench or in our locker room that felt like when we were down we were out.”
Fourth-quarter Breland was an example of that. She had two turnovers late in the fourth, both of which led to Dallas points, but her three-point play gave the Dream a 73-71 lead and her freethrows down stretch helped seal the deal.
“I’ve been talking to Renee about how I need to be more aggressive offensively,” Breland said. “And in training camp I just really been focused on taking my shots or attacking the rim, and my teammates have been very encouraging with me taking a lot of shots they know I can knock down. So that helps a lot.”
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Atlanta Block Party
Breland and center Elizabeth Williams finished with seven blocks combined.
“When you survive 17 offensive rebounds, it says something about your team. When you survive 18-for-29 from the foul line, and you win – it tells you something about your team. And it starts defensively with these two,” Collen said, referencing Breland and Williams. “The amount of stuff they clean up at the backend of plays, Glory was miserable all night because of these guys.”
Atlanta was down 39-34 at the half, but to start the second half, Williams denied Glory Johnson thrice in one possession.
For Dallas, Isabelle Harrison finished with five blocks and Allisha Gray finished with one. Both teams struggled to get to the rim through many stretches of the game, but what benefitted the Wings was their ability to convert from deep while iced out of the paint. The Dream struggled from beyond the arc.
At one point, Dallas was shooting 50 percent from three while the Dream were at 18 percent.
During training camp, Collen said one of the goals for the season was to improve offensive efficiency and get more of her bigs shooting from deep. Billings, Gülich and Williams were the only players who didn’t attempt a three-point shot.
Working on cohesiveness
The Dream is still trying to put the pieces together that it compiled in its busy offseason.
Collen rotated in nine of the Dream’s 11 available players. The only two who didn’t step on the floor were Haley Peters — who didn’t practice with the team until they returned from the preseason games in Connecticut — and rookie Maite Cazorla out of Oregon.
Nia Coffey replaced Tiffany Hayes with 5:53 to go in the first quarter, and finished the first quarter with six points and a rebound, and finished the game overall with eight points, four rebounds and one assist, block and steal.
“I think you saw a little bit of what Nia provides, especially early. Was really aggressive getting downhill, back to the front of the rim,” Collen said. “I think when she starts knocking down the three, she’s going to be really good in this league at the three spot and she gives us versatility to be small.”
Gülich struggled in her first minutes, but in the second half looked much more comfortable – finishing with six points and four rebounds.
“She looked a little like a rookie, she didn’t get a ton of minutes last year, playing behind (Brittney) Griner, and I thought she looked a little lost in the first half,” Collen said. “So it took me a while to go back to her, and I think her hitting that first shot when she went back in, it rolling in, that was a big confidence boost. Her second half minutes were very good, and a little bit more of what I expect going forward.”
Tiffany Hayes struggled to score
Noticeably, the Dream’s All-WNBA First Team player started the game as a small forward, but was listed as questionable due to her ankle.
Though it didn’t seem — at least from press row — like her ankle was bothering her, she seemed off. She was in and out of the game during the first half and visibly frustrated, possibly by her struggle to score. She finished the first half with two points, one personal foul and one technical and the game with five points shooting 2-for-8 from the field and 1-for-4 from the free throw line.
Hayes spent most of her time defending Arike Ogunbowale, who finished the game with 12 points. Gray finished with 14.
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