ATLANTA (AP) — Angel McCoughtry was quiet for the first three quarters in her return from a two-game suspension. She then took over in the fourth.
McCoughtry scored 18 of her 24 points in the final period to lead the Dream to an 87-80 victory over the Connecticut Sun on Sunday, and then triumphantly jumped into the arms of teammate Erika De Souza at midcourt to celebrate.
“I was so excited,” McCoughtry said. “It felt so good to be back on the floor. I’ll never take basketball for granted again.”
The WNBA’s leading scorer shot 7 for 8 from the field as the Dream (14-13) pulled away from a third-quarter tie to hand Connecticut (19-7) just its third loss in 13 road games.
Sancho Lyttle had 15 points and 13 rebounds, and De Souza finished with 14 points and 12 boards. However, the story was McCoughtry’s big fourth quarter.
“We all know she can do that,” Lyttle said. “To prove it with all the nonsense we had going on proves she’s a good player and she can help us win.”
McCoughtry didn’t enter the game until the final minute of the first quarter and had just two points at halftime while missing all three of her shots from the floor. She was 1 of 6 going into the final quarter, with four of her six points coming at the foul line.
“She went out and played hard and got into the flow,” coach Fred Williams said. “She had to really get her legs under her a little bit in the first half and got in a rhythm with a few shots in the second half.
Kara Lawson had 16 points and five assists, and Danielle McCray scored a season-high 15 — including 13 in the final quarter — for the Sun. But not even McCray, who was 3 for 3 on 3-pointers in the quarter, could match McCoughtry.
“I was disappointed in our defense in the fourth quarter,” Sun coach Mike Thibault said. “Angel had the ball on the wing and we acted like she wasn’t going to shoot. And we all know that she usually does.”
McCoughtry was suspended indefinitely for a violation of unspecified team policy by Williams on Monday after he was promoted to take over as coach and general manger for the fired Marynell Meadors.
“I was never worried about that,” McCoughtry said when asked if she thought she’d be able to rejoin the Dream. “I was just worried about the pressure on the team with all this.”
McCoughtry, who missed a loss to Tulsa and a victory over Washington, had been involved in a conflict with Meadors and sat out two games for personal reasons before returning Aug. 25 in a loss to Minnesota. She played 20 minutes off the bench in that game and scored 14 points.
Williams reinstated McCoughtry on Saturday and she took part in an open practice for season-ticket holders. Williams said on Wednesday that he had given the former No. 1 draft choice from Louisville a written list of requirements she had to sign and comply with before being reinstated.
The Sun used a 9-0 run to take a 51-46 lead midway in the third quarter, but the Dream tied it at 58 going into the final quarter on McCoughtry’s two free throws with 1.5 seconds left. Then came the fourth-quarter outburst by the member of the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team.
“She is the best player out there when she is with them, so we just need to be aware of where she is,” said the Sun’s Tina Charles, an Olympic teammate. “In the fourth quarter, Atlanta got some great energy and crowd got them into it.”
“It’s a first step,” Williams said of McCoughtry’s return. “It means a lot not only to me, but her teammates. . It’s not just one player. It’s a team sport.”
Connecticut, which was swept by Atlanta in the first round of the playoffs last year, defeated the Dream twice in June as Charles totaled 45 points and 33 rebounds.
But De Souza, who was training with Brazil for the Olympics, missed those games. With her inside this time, Charles had 11 points and 11 rebounds.
“The coach challenged us to stop her,” Lyttle said. “If we did, he said that we’d win. Erika did a great job.”