ATLANTA — Two-time WNBA scoring champion Angel McCoughtry was in no rush to begin defense of a possible a third on Friday.
She took two shots in the first quarter of the Atlanta Dream’s season opener at Philips Arena and had a quiet eight points at halftime, a relatively modest total for a player who averaged 21.5 points per game last season for the 2013 Eastern Conference champions.
"It wasn’t a slow start," said McCoughtry, who never lacks for confidence. "Look, I can always get mine. That’s not an issue. It’s about being a team player, letting everybody get theirs first so if you see me not being so aggressive it’s because I’m letting the team jell and we’ve got to figure everything out."
But when the game was on the line, McCoughtry took over. With the Dream trailing by four points with 3:10 remaining in regulation, McCoughtry scored eight points to help the Dream close out the San Antonio Stars with a 11-3 run for a 79-75 victory.
McCoughtry finished with 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting in 34 minutes. Not bad for a player who just rejoined the team on Monday following a seven-month season in Europe.
"And that’s what she do; that’s why she gets the big bucks," said Dream coach Michael Cooper, in his first season with the franchise. "It’s a joy to have Angel back because she just went out and made some basketball plays through the course of the game to get us in that game."
Erika DeSouza led the Dream with a game-high 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting. She also had 11 rebounds.
It was a closely contested game throughout much of the first half with the Dream holding a 38-36 lead at the break. The third quarter was one of runs. The Dream went up 52-43 as McCoughtry made a 14-footer then two free throws to give Atlanta its largest lead of the game.
That’s when San Antonio began a run of its own — 13-3 to finish the quarter and take a one-point lead into the fourth quarter. Eight of those points belonged to the Stars’ Sharon Robinson, who scored 23 points on 8-of-9 shooting.
With 4:14 left in regulation, the game was tied at 68-68. Robinson’s layup gave the Stars a two-point advantage and then two free three by Kayla McBride pushed the lead to four, setting up McCoughtry’s late-game heroics.
Cooper credited the Dream’s conditioning for the win. He thought the Stars grew a "little weary, a little leg-tired" and that helped the Dream to build momentum.
"We started camp out running and I really believe conditioning is the most important thing for the long haul or for a sprint and that’s what the WNBA is — it’s a sprint," he said. "I think through the course of all that, our conditioning has taken over in the fourth quarter."
The game also marked a successful debut for Dream rookie point guard Shoni Schimmel. She finished with seven points and 11 assists. She said she was nervous to start, but then calmed down as the game wore on.
Cooper said he has given Schimmel plenty of leeway.
"It’s a great feeling to have," said Schimmel. "Just kind of have the freedom to sit there and play your game. That’s the best situation to come into and I think it’s an awesome feeling. It’s fun to go out there and play your own game."
That leeway led to a rookie mistake but one that ultimately did not end up costing the Dream. With Atlanta holding 75-73 lead in the final minute, Schimmel took a shot with 11 seconds remaining on the shot clock instead of running it down further and missed with 24.9 seconds left.
She helped to make up for that at the other end with a steal and then by making two free throws with 6.4 seconds help put the game out of reach.
"Had we lost, I’d probably be saying something different," said Cooper, "but I’m going to allow her to make those judgment calls for herself."