The Atlanta Dream will have a chance to defend its back-to-back Eastern Conference Championships as the team clinched its fourth consecutive playoff berth.
A loss by Chicago late Thursday night in Los Angeles, on the heels of the Dream’s 77-61 victory over Seattle on Sept. 11, guaranteed Atlanta a playoff spot.
Atlanta currently sits in third place in the Eastern Conference with a record of 17-14 with two games remaining. Since the Olympic break, the Dream is 8-4 and has won six of its last seven contests, including six straight at Philips Arena.
And while the Atlanta Dream are going to the playoffs, the Washington Mystics, their last opponents, are just finishing up another disappointing season.
The Mystics have lost 10 straight and are 1-12 since the Olympic break.
But it didn’t look that way early in the game on Sept. 14 when the Mystics built an 11-point third quarter lead. Washington’s upset hopes soon faded, however, as Angel McCoughtry scored 26 points and Lindsey Harding added 19 to help the Dream rally and beat the Mystics 82-74.
“We came out a little flat. I felt our energy level wasn’t that high in the first half, and in the second half we picked it up with some more intensity on defense and made a few more shots,” Atlanta coach Fred Williams said. “Washington came after us.”
Atlanta trailed by 10 points at halftime after turning the ball over 10 times and surrendering 21 second chance points to the Mystics.
“They were out-rebounding us and getting a lot of second chance points which got them a good lead,” McCoughtry said. “We just had to adjust and get on the boards in the second half.”
Monique Currie led Washington (5-26) with 20 points and Matee Ajavon added 15.
“We played well for probably about three and a half quarters,” Currie said. “Atlanta made some tough shots in the fourth quarter. Angel took over a little bit, but they hit some big shots and we didn’t.”
Washington’s leading scorer, Crystal Langhorne, left in the second quarter with a left foot strain and did not return.
Trailing by four early in the fourth quarter, Atlanta went on an 8-0 run and eventually led by five. Then the Mystics tied it at 65 on a 3-pointer by Currie. But Atlanta
went ahead for good on McCoughtry’s two free throws with 3:28 left.
After a Washington miss, McCoughtry sandwiched a jumper and a 3-pointer around a free throw by Currie to make it 72-66 with 2:18 to play as Washington got no closer than four points the rest of the way.
“We did some isolation plays for her to create some things and she’s a good one-on-one player and she just made some clutch baskets for us,” Williams said of McCoughtry.
As the WNBA’s leading scorer, McCoughtry hit 10-of-18 field goal attempts.
Atlanta joins Indiana as the only teams from the Eastern Conference to reach the playoffs in each of the past four seasons. In the Western Conference, only San Antonio and Seattle have been in the playoffs every year since 2009.