ATLANTA (AP)—The Atlanta Dream may have found the key to getting back to the WNBA finals.
Armintie Price scored 19 points, Angel McCoughtry added 16 and fill-in center Alison Bales had a career-high 15 for the Dream in a 95-73 victory over the Washington Mystics on Friday night that moved Atlanta within one win of a playoff berth.
The 6-foot-7 Bales replaced injured starter Erika DeSouza, and her three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter helped Atlanta pull away after Washington made things interesting. Atlanta (17-14) won for the 14th time in 19 games after beginning the season 3-9.
Never mind that Bales made just two 3-pointers in the Dream’s first 30 games. Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors said nobody should be surprised at the former Duke star’s perfect night from long range against the visiting Mystics (6-25).
“We’ve tried to get Alison to shoot that more often,” Meadors said. “She’s a really big 3-point shooter and most people can’t defend that. That’s one of the reasons we signed her a couple years ago.”
Bales wasted little time after starting her second straight game in place of DeSouza, who may return from a sprained ankle for Sunday’s game against Tulsa.
With six points in the first quarter—including two long jumpers—the fourth-year veteran passed her season scoring average (4.5 points) although she waited until the final quarter to unleash her 3-pointers.
“I’m always shooting (the 3) in warm-ups, but my game has always been a little more defense-oriented,” Bales said after adding five rebounds and two blocked shots. “That’s one of the things that I’ve been working on, trying to shoot more.”
Atlanta reserve guard Coco Miller—who often went up against twin Kelly Miller Friday night—joined the fun. Coco Miller’s eight first-quarter points were more than her scoring average (7.1) and the Dream took a 26-14 lead.
“When everybody’s stepping up, that’s how you win championships,” McCoughtry said. “It’s not one person.”
The Dream have won nine of their past 12 games, and the 2010 WNBA finalists hold the fourth and final playoff spot in the East. They need a win over their final three games or a loss by fifth-place Chicago (14-16) to sew up a spot.
Washington has long been eliminated from playoff contention, but the Mystics have been a problem for Atlanta while splitting the teams’ first four meetings. That included an 85-81 win at home in Washington on Thursday to snap a nine-game losing streak.
Washington gave the Dream a hard time Friday with rookie guard Jasmine Thomas scoring a career-high 19 points to help the Mystics rally and try to make a lopsided game respectable.
Atlanta led 67-43 on Coco Miller’s 3-point play with 4:41 left in the third quarter, but the Mystics pulled within 72-64 on Marissa Coleman’s 3-pointer with 9:20 left in the game.
“Our defense stopped playing defense,” Meadors said. “And we were taking quick shots, which created offensive opportunities for them.”
Once Atlanta’s lead dropped from 24 points to eight, she countered with her third and fourth 3-pointers of the season to push the Dream back up 78-66. From there, Atlanta pulled away.
“Tonight, I hit ‘em. It’s a lot easier to keep shooting them when you make the first one,” she said. “I made the first one, made the second one, and made the third one. The best part is we had a balanced scoring attack. Sometimes, we just watch Angel and want her to save the day.”
All-Star forward Crystal Langhorne scored 15 points for Washington, and Coleman finished with 12 points.