August 13, 2020
The Atlanta Dream are running out of time
A 37-point loss to Seattle on Wednesday night was the largest deficit in franchise history
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Courtney Williams #10 of the Atlanta Dream shoots the ball against the Seattle Storm on August 12, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. Mandatory Copyright Notice:Copyright 2020 NBAE (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)
Seven days ago, Chennedy Carter flung a last-second 3-pointer that beat the buzzer to give Atlanta a one-point loss to Seattle. Despite the loss, the Dream players came off the court looking almost happier than the Storm players did. They knew how close they’d come and coming that close against one of the best teams in the league could only be a positive sign.
Wednesday night, Blake Dietrick — starting at point guard because Carter is out with an ankle injury — dribbled up the court with 7.5 seconds left and Atlanta down by 40 points to Seattle. Monique Billings set a screen that allowed Dietrick to get free for one last shot attempt — another buzzer-beating trey, this time to cut the deficit to 37 points.
In the six days between the Dream’s two games against the Storm, things couldn’t have changed more dramatically.
Atlanta expected to take the momentum from the one-point loss and start stringing some wins together. Instead, they lost to Dallas by 10 on Saturday and lost to Connecticut by 11 on Monday.
Carter left Monday’s game with an ankle injury and is expected to miss approximately two weeks, which would mean she’d miss six games before potentially returning Aug. 25 against Washington. In the Dream’s last game against Seattle, Carter had a breakout game inside a breakout rookie season and dropped 35 points with seven assists.
Coming into Wednesday’s matchup, Dream coach Nicki Collen knew it would be a tall task for her team to beat Seattle without its star point guard and most dangerous offensive threat.
“We’ve collectively gotta be better,” Collen said before the game. “We’ve gotta hopefully get [Shekinna Stricklen] some open shots since she obviously shot it so well the last game. We just have to get production all the way around. We may need five players in double figures to compete in this game and someone have a breakout.”
“I think the key in this game not having Chennedy is Chennedy was able to fight pressure with speed. Seattle’s a team with Jordin Canada that can pressure you. She’d be on one side of the floor and they just couldn’t corral her, so she put pressure on the D. We’re going to have to play very, very differently when we played them a week ago. We’ve gotta take care of the basketball, because we just don’t have a way to combat speed with speed.”
Collen mixed up the starting lineup, bringing in Dietrick to start at point guard and giving Courtney Williams her first start of the season at shooting guard. She moved Billings to coming off the bench after a string of difficulties at the offensive end in the hopes that returning to a bench role would allow Billings more of a chance to bring energy.
Dietrick played all 40 minutes for the first time in her career and scored a career-high 16 points. She’s been effective for the Dream all season coming off the bench, and Collen always says Dietrick is the kind of player who makes her teammates better. But asking her to fill in and replace everything Carter brings to the floor — particularly on a night where Williams struggled offensively — isn’t necessarily a role Dietrick is going to be able to fill.
Collen said they might need five players in double figures to be competitive. Instead, they had two with Dietrick and Betnijah Laney. In short, everything that needed to happen for Atlanta to come away with the win, didn’t happen.
“The goal was to give us an offensive spark,” Collen said. “Mo Billings has struggled a ton since our first game, so I thought her coming off the bench could give us a spark. I thought Strick at the 4 would give us better floor spacing. Courtney Williams went 4-for-17 and a lot of them were open. Stricklen went 0-for-6. We’re not gonna compete if those guys aren’t making shots consistently.”
In many ways, it was a return to a familiar kind of loss for Atlanta, which had the worst offense in the league last season. The Dream got open shots and good looks at the rim, but they couldn’t get them to fall. Atlanta finished the game with a 36.5 shooting percentage and went 8-of-29 from 3-point range.
“I was scared to death that we weren’t going to offensively function without Chennedy,” Collen said. “We got layups and open threes in the first two quarters. I thought we functioned at a high level. I thought we made a few bad passes, but for the most part if you’d told me we were only going to turn the basketball over 15 times, I would’ve told you we were competing, because my biggest fear was turnovers in this game without the pressure that Chennedy can put on the defense by attacking. I thought we got really good shots from the tip. We just missed them.”
After the game, Atlanta’s general manager Chris Sienko provided his thoughts on Twitter.
He isn’t wrong. The Dream have had a challenging start to the season with players testing positive for COVID-19 and are on a stretch of 19 days with games every other day. There are positive signs across the roster, and if Atlanta can get Carter back and get players like Williams back in form, there’s a good chance the Dream could put a run together.
But Atlanta is nine games into a 22-game season and is 2-7 with six straight losses. It needs more time for things to come together and get settled, but in a shortened season, there may not be enough time for that to happen in 2020.