September 10, 2020 

‘It all came back to pride’: How Nicki Collen’s timeout message spurred the Dream

Atlanta came back from being down 18, kept playoff hopes alive

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Nicki Collen speaks to media after the Dream win, September 9, 2020. (Screenshot from NBA Content Network)

Just one minute and 41 seconds into the third quarter, the Atlanta Dream were in trouble.

After being down 10 to the Chicago Sky at halftime, the Dream quickly let the deficit get to 18 at the beginning of the third quarter. That’s when Nicki Collen called a timeout.

“It all came back to pride,” Collen said. “That was the word I used multiple times. You have to have pride in your defense. … I thought at the end of the second quarter we were doing some good things. Thinking we were in a place coming out of the locker room where we were horrific. Our posts were 1-for-16, and most of those were in the paint in the first half. For us to even be within ten at halftime, I felt like we had a run in us. To quickly get down 18 and have to call that timeout, it was about — we can’t get in this unless we’re going to scrap and claw and get out there defensively. It was all about defensive pride.”

Immediately out of the timeout, Chicago turned the ball over twice — and Atlanta scored off both of those turnovers. The Sky didn’t make another basket for almost three full minutes as the Dream narrowed the gap to nine points.

“When we’re tough and we follow game plans, you saw how we can scrap and claw against a really good offensive team,” Collen said. “I was just really proud of them that they immediately battled back and went on there on run after that timeout. I think that that gave them confidence. If they had come out of that timeout and hadn’t made a run, it would have been easy to pack it in because we were down 18. But, because 18 became 10 right away, we just kept clawing away. We felt like we were in the game.”

A Courtney Vandersloot 3-pointer took the lead back to 12 for Chicago, but it didn’t last long.

Courtney Williams, Betnijah Laney, Blake Dietrick and Elizabeth Williams all started to look more confident and hunt for their shots. Late in the quarter, Dietrick hit a three to bring the Dream within one. Atlanta’s bench exploded.

Moments later, Shekinna Stricklen made a three of her own to tie things up — her only basket of the night, but probably the game’s biggest.

“We did the little things that we needed to do,” Collen said. “Betnijah was seven-for-seven in the second half herself. Three players with double-doubles. I can’t say enough about how good Blake Dietrick was off the bench today. You know, her motor her keeping us in transition, her making open shots and, and really, her defensive energy was a huge, huge part of our win tonight.”

Both Courtney and Elizabeth Williams had double-doubles, and Laney added one of her own to go with her game-high 24 points. It was the sixth time in WNBA history three players on a team have had double-doubles with points and rebounds in a game. (Brief digression: It should be noted, though, via Across The Timeline, it happened twice in one night!)

The Dream had to win to stay in contention for the eighth spot in the playoffs, and they knew it. Collen has said for the past couple of weeks that she isn’t afraid to make it clear to her team exactly what they need to do to grab that spot.

“We’re fortunate that things are starting to click more and more,” Elizabeth Williams said. “We’re just going to keep fighting. We were down 18, and I think we all decided that this wasn’t going to be the way our season ends. We’re just going to keep working, keep fighting, and it’s more encouraging when you’re playing for something for sure.”

The Dream have won four of their last seven games, with the three losses coming to playoff teams — Minnesota, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Their last two games are against Connecticut, which has already clinched the playoffs, and Washington, which could turn out to be a play-in game for that last playoff spot.

No one expected Atlanta to still be in the playoff hunt at this point, but they are, and they’re not going down without a fight.

“Last year, we played our last couple games with no chance for the playoffs and it’s hard to motivate them,” Collen said. “So being able to say, ‘Hey, we still have a chance and we’ve still got to work and we’ve got to play not for a moral victory, but for something bigger than that.’ And I think this group deserves that. … We have to be better and we’ve got to keep growing, but I think we have enough good pieces that when they play together and play with good synergy, we can compete with anybody.”

Written by Bailey Johnson

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