I don't think anyone in their right mind thought the Atlanta Dream would excel in games without Erika de Souza or Angel McCoughtry, but they do have to play good enough to compete for the final fourth seed in the playoffs until the Olympics are over and their elite starting five are reunited. The 73-60 loss on Tuesday, June 19th against the New York Liberty fell well short of good enough.
The Dream faired worse in their second game without Angel McCoughtry. The severity of McCoughtry's leg injury seems to be mild as she was quoted as saying she "wanted to be 100 percent healthy for the upcoming Olympics and for the second half of the upcoming season." With McCoughtry's attention clearly divided between this year's season and the Olympics, expect her to take herself out of games at the slightest sign of soreness.
The Dream's paint defense has done surprisingly well for the second straight game. The Dream outrebounded the Liberty 38-28. This unexpected upswing in potent paint defense has to be attributed to Sancho Lyttle's aggressive play. Lyttle played her best all-around game Tuesday night notching her first double-double of the season with 13 points and 13 rebounds.
Lyttle began the season very tentative in the paint as she seemed unwilling to pit her body against some of the more physical plays on the floor. Ever since the June 10th game against the Connecticut Sun when Lyttle put up 21 points over 8 rebounds, Lyttle has really been more physical banging her body down low notching critical paint points and taking in rebounds galore. Lyttle, who plans to participate in a European tournament later in the season, hasn't short changed the Dream this year as she has become a leader of this ragtag group of inexperienced fill-ins.
While the paint defense was impressive, the perimeter defense was not. The Liberty had free range with jumpers and three-pointers converting opportunities all night long. They shot an impressive 50.8% in team field goals and 42.9% in three-pointers.
Liberty's guard Cappie Pondexter has been a real nuisance all season against the Dream. While the Dream cut down Pondexter's point total to 14 (in comparison to her season high total of 26 points on June 5th), she still notched a double-double with 13 assists as four of the Liberty's starting five tallied double digit points Tuesday night.
Part of the reason for the Dream's breakdown on the perimeter has to do with McCoughtry's absence as the Dream were forced to move guard Armintie Price to the forward position, while rookie Tiffany Hayes took over Price's normal position. Even though Hayes wasn't overmatched (7 points, 3 rebounds, 1 steal), the Dream were still physically outdone against a Liberty team that is one of the least physical teams in the league with size deficiency issues of their own.
Both teams are now 4-7 and lay claim to the coveted fourth place spot in the East with the Liberty leading the tie breaker due to their 2-1 lead in the season series against the Dream. The two teams will have a rematch of Tuesday's game on Sunday, June 24th in New York. No word yet on whether McCoughtry will be sufficiently rested from her "leg injury" in time for Sunday's game.
As a resident of the southeast, Charles McGregor has been a fan of the Dream since their inception.