June 22, 2024 

‘I don’t have the answers’: Atlanta Dream’s slide continues in front of record home crowd

Tanisha Wright is still figuring out how to get the Dream to click

ATLANTA — In a historic night for the Atlanta Dream, a franchise-record 17,575 fans packed State Farm Arena for a clash with the Indiana Fever on Friday. This shattered the previous attendance record (11,609) from the franchise’s inaugural game in 2008, which was also played at State Farm Arena (then known as Philips Arena).

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The move from the Dream’s usual 3,500-seat arena in College Park was driven by overwhelming ticket demand.

“Atlanta has done a tremendous job of showing out for the Dream over these last few years,” Dream head coach Tanisha Wright told the media pregame. “… It’s fun to be in this type of atmosphere, so for me, I just enjoy the game of basketball.”

However, despite the electrifying crowd, Atlanta’s performance on both ends of the floor failed to match the fervor in the stands.

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The Dream never led, struggling to contain Indiana’s high-powered transition offense. The Fever scored 35 points in the first quarter alone, giving them an early 10-point lead. It was much of the same from there. Indiana rookie guard Caitlin Clark knocked down a deep step-back three over Atlanta forward/guard Haley Jones, widening Atlanta’s deficit to 19 points with 6:15 left in the second quarter en route to a 91-79 loss.

Forward NaLyssa Smith, guard Kelsey Mitchell and Clark combined to score 55 of the Fever’s 91 points on 56% shooting from the field. For the Dream, only center Tina Charles shot at least 40% from the field among the eight players to play at least 10 minutes. In comparison, seven of Indiana’s eight rotation players reached that threshold.

The Dream fell to 6-8 and have lost four of their last five games. After Friday’s loss, Wright expressed frustration and uncertainty about her team’s outlook. “I promise you if I had answers, I’d tell you. I don’t have the answers,” she said. “I know it’s my job to figure out how to get this team to play together.”

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The loss leaves the Dream searching for solutions as they strive to regain momentum with a tough stretch ahead. They have struggled offensively throughout the season, ranking last in the 12-team WNBA in points per game and 10th in offensive rating.

This task is more challenging with the absence of star wing Rhyne Howard. Howard sustained an ankle injury on June 19 when she stepped on Minnesota Lynx guard Courtney Williams‘ foot in the third quarter of the Dream’s loss to the Lynx. She needed assistance to get to the locker room and did not return to the game. 

According to ESPN’s Michael Voepel, Howard will be out indefinitely. In her place, Atlanta big Cheyenne Parker-Tyus was reinserted into the starting lineup after three games on the bench, and Nia Coffey was shuffled back from power forward to small forward.

Despite Howard’s injury, Parker-Tyus continues to see her minutes fluctuate. She played just 10 minutes on Friday and did not return in the second half after allowing Indiana to score 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting while she was the primary defender, according to The Next’s hand-tracked data.

Her absence in the second half raised questions, to which Wright responded pointedly, “You saw the game. What did you think?”

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With Parker-Tyus on the bench, Wright turned to third-year reserve forward Naz Hillmon for a spark. Hillmon led the team with nine rebounds, including four offensive boards. She also contributed seven points and recorded a team-best plus-minus (-2) in the loss.

“We still have quite a bit of time to figure some things out,” Hillmon told reporters postgame. “It’s a buy-in top to bottom that we [must] get to. I know everyone sees the talent, but it’s not just going to take talent. It takes focus, it takes the energy, and that’s what we have to show up [with] every single game.

“Nobody is gonna feel sorry for us. They’re not gonna take off a possession and say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry. Rhyne Howard’s not here.’ It’s just not going to happen, so we can’t do it.”

Charles shared a similar sentiment: “Personally, I dwell on effort and toughness. No coach should have to coach your effort — that’s the main thing. You’re here at this level in the W, [so] that should be coming along with who you are.”

After already struggling to eclipse 70 points with Howard, one of the league’s most gifted scorers, in the lineup, the Dream’s challenges may only become more pronounced in the weeks ahead.

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Written by Hunter Cruse

Hunter Cruse covers the Atlanta Dream and the WNBA Draft for The Next.

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