Watching the Atlanta Dream only briefly during practice earlier today, it quickly became evident that the defining characteristic of this team clearly starts with how they practice.
When Sancho Lyttle came down the court in a halfcourt drill to get position to rebound, she playfully threw an elbow to clear out assistant coach Carol Ross who was standing in as a would-be defender. During three-on-nobody fast break drills, the emphasis was more on getting the ball up court than polished execution and the players and staff more emphatically cheered on teammates to get the second those second chance opportunities. During five-on-nobody fast break drills, coach Marynell Meadors encouraged the team that was already moving at a frenzied pace to move even faster.
"Too slow," shouted Meadors at one point during their five-on-nothing drill. "You ain’t getting five dribbles."
It’s been said repeatedly by the Storm players and staff, but the Dream are clearly a team that thrives on its energy and scrappiness. And in direct opposition to the more methodical and refined style of the Seattle Storm, this team practices playing the style at breakneck speed.
"If you wanna look up aggressive in the dictionary, that’s them," said Strom assistant Jenny Boucek after practice on Friday. "If you let them be the aggressors, it’s real tough, but if you get them out of that, they’re way out of their comfort zone. They’ll be way out of their comfort zone and they’ll go from great to good. So that’s our goal is to try to not let them have us on our heels the whole night."
Boucek’s comment about getting them out of their comfort zone was definitely true during the regular season, when that energetic and scrappy style of play showed up very clearly in an almost singular statistical strength relative to opponents – offensive rebounding. The Dream were second in the league to the Seattle Storm in offensive rebounding percentage and first in second chance points. When adding the fact that they were first in the league in points off turnovers during the season, it’s clear that this team used their combination of athleticism and relative youth to reduce games to rather ugly contests in which they simply outworked their opponents on both ends of the floor and feasted on opponents’ breakdowns.
The problem was that they were only in the middle of the pack in terms of offensive efficiency and last in three point shooting (both attempts and percentage). Instead, they relied heavily on outworking teams.
"Our advantage is quickness," said Dream center Erika de Souza before practice today. "We play quick and fast-paced – we out-rebound people and we run. That’s how we have to play."
However, their gritty style of play alone isn’t what got them through the playoffs undefeated. What’s happened is that they’ve come together in the post-season to be both scrappy and efficient, averaging a playoff-high 95 points per game and getting outstanding play from guard Angel McCoughtry, who is averaging an astounding 28 points per game in the playoffs on 50.7% shooting, including that 42 point outburst against the New York Liberty.
"I don’t know if we have the answer right now," said Storm coach Brian Agler. "We’re going to try some things, but we’re going to keep an open mind, and may have to make some adjustments, but they are really playing well. They are extremely aggressive at both ends of the floor and they are scoring at a high rate and they are really getting up and down the floor as well as anyone I’ve seen in this league for a while."
Visit SBN's Swish Appeal to see How the Atlanta Dream Transitioned From Scrappy to Efficient to Make the WNBA Finals.