A late 13-2 run in the second quarter by the Chicago Sky erased a 12 point deficit and proved critical in Atlanta's Game 1 loss. The Dream will now face elimination on Sunday when the series shifts to Chicago for Game 2.
The Atlanta Dream may not be dead quite yet but Friday's Game 1 loss at home was a heavy blow. Atlanta saw a 12-point lead evaporate in the final moments of the second quarter which ultimately led to an 80-77 loss to the Sky.
The Dream controlled the first quarter and a half turning the game into the kind of track meet that they thrive in. Things started to slow down late in the quarter and the Sky got a boost two of their key players in Courtney Vandersloot and Elena Delle Donne.
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"We all know the personnel, we know the sets and the schemes but I can remember Vandersloot comes back in the game and its a back cut to Elena," said Sky head coach Pokey Chatman following the game. "Vandersloot comes into the game and she comes off the pick and roll and hits Prince in the corner. I think we just played with a lot of poise and played with our pace. Atlanta wants to make you play a little bit faster and we kept it in fourth gear and we knew when to get to fifth gear."
Atlanta Dream head coach Michael Cooper cited a bit of complacency on the part of his team with the big lead and a couple of wasted possessions that helped fuel the Sky's run. "I think we got complacent a little bit," said Cooper. "The regular season and the playoffs are two different types of seasons. In the playoffs, shot selection and value of the basketball are important. I thought we got caught up into that game where we took about two or three quick shots, they went down and scored and that can hurt you in a sense. Shot selection was big."
Cooper didn't cite the exact shots he was talking about but Angel McCoughtry pulled up for jumpers in transition on back-to-back possessions. Elena Delle Donne scored on three of Chicago's final five possessions and Epiphanny Prince's three pointer with 0.3 remaining cut the Dream's lead to 37-36 at the half.
Atlanta and Chicago came into the game as the top two teams in the league in terms of pace. However, it is much more critical to the Dream's success given their lack of consistent perimeter shooting. Atlanta's defense is a huge part of their transition game and the first quarter and a half of the game were played to Atlanta's liking. Whether it was good execution by Chicago or Atlanta's defense slowing, the Sky were able to control the tempo during the second half.
"They are a transition team, we call the first five seconds 'quick strike,' and they are the best in the league in the first five seconds," said Chatman. "We execute and shoot 47 percent and it slows it down and buys us two seconds to get back on defense. Its all connected. Its just a matter of us doing those things to slowing their transition."
Atlanta's defense held Chicago to just 37 percent shooting in the first half but the Sky made 58 percent of their attempts after halftime going 18-31. That all but erased the Dream's transition game and forced them to play in the half court set where they are less effective.
Game 2 will be about adjustments and Cooper hinted at some changes for the Dream on both ends of the floor. "I think there is some things defensively that we want to do better. I saw some things where we can get Erika some more shots."
De Souza finished with 12 points on 6-10 shooting but she becomes much more critical when the game slows down for Atlanta.
Despite the loss and despite having a current five-game road losing streak, don't expect the Dream to give up. They have proven resilient over the years and have been quite comfortable without home court advantage. "I was always told by former head coach of mine Pat Riley, that championships are won on the road," said Cooper. "I think the pressure now switches to them more so than us as they have to try and close us out on Sunday. We are going to go there, give them a good fight and try to get this thing back to Atlanta on Tuesday."
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