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Looking Back at 2018: Atlanta Dream

Over the final 12 days of 2018, each day we will look back at the year that was for a WNBA team, reminiscing over some of the best moments from the past year and looking ahead to the upcoming year as well. Up next is the Atlanta Dream, who finished with the second-best record in the league as part of an 11-win improvement from 2017, tied with Seattle for the biggest turnaround from 2017 to 2018.

Season Recap

Record: 23-11, an 11-win improvement from 2017

Finish: 1st in Eastern Conference, 2nd overall

Postseason: Eliminated in Semifinals by Washington in five games

Awards: Tiffany Hayes, All-WNBA First Team, All-Defensive Second Team; Jessica Breland, All-Defensive First Team; Nicki Collen, Coach of the Year; Chris Sienko, Basketball Executive of the Year

Leaders: Points (Hayes, 17.2); Rebounds (Breland, 7.9); Assists (Renee Montgomery, 3.7); Steals (Montgomery, 1.3); Blocks (Breland, 1.9); 3-Pointers (Montgomery, 2.3)

Key Offseason Questions

Can the Dream Build on the Momentum from 2018?

Atlanta’s road to a franchise-record 23 win season got off to a bit of a slow start. The Dream went 2-2 in May and 5-6 in June for a 7-8 record through 15 games. But once the calendar flipped to July, the Dream began to pile up wins. From July 8 to Aug. 12, the Dream won 14 of 15 games, including win streaks of eight and six games. After going 7-8 through 15 games, the Dream went 16-3 the rest of the way to secure the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and a double bye to the semifinal round.

Unfortunately for the Dream, that is where their season ended, as the Washington Mystics won the winner-take-all Game 5 to advance to the Finals. Atlanta was one win away from advancing to the Finals for the fourth time in their franchise’s young history (2008 debut).

Will any major changes be made to the roster for 2019?

The Dream made two impact free agent signings last summer by adding Renee Montgomery and Jessica Breland to the roster. Montgomery would go on to make a franchise record 78 3-pointers and Breland would earn All-Defensive Second Team honors. The Dream also made an in-season trade to acquire Alex Bentley. The Dream may be content with their roster and ready to run it back – especially getting Angel McCoughtry back, who missed the final month of the season with a knee injury.

Atlanta holds the No. 11 pick in the first round of the 2019 Draft, but could also look to add players via free agency. While Atlanta finished 2018 as the league’s top defensive team (97.1 DefRtg), they finished 10th on offense (99.9 OffRtg) and 11th in shooting (46.8 eFG%).

Best On-Court Moment

Tiffany Hayes’ half-court game-winner vs. Connecticut

Tie game, 10 seconds left, Connecticut with the ball. Get a stop and force overtime and win the game in OT. Well, Tiffany Hayes had other plans.  As Connecticut’s Jasmine Thomas drove the lane against Jessica Breland she lost the ball, Hayes grabbed it, took two dribbles launched a shot from behind half-court at the buzzer that found the bottom of the net to give the Dream an 86-83 win. It was the fifth straight win for the Dream as part of their season-long eight game win streak.

Not only was this a great moment for the Dream, but also for Hayes, who earlier that day found out that she was not selected as a WNBA All-Star in what many saw as the biggest snub of the voting. The next morning she spoke about her game-winning shot on SportsCenter, which ironically was co-hosted by Sun forward Chiney Ogwumike, who saw Hayes’ shot from the sidelines as she was not on the floor for the game’s final play.

Renee Montgomery wearing Tiffany Hayes’ jersey in the 3-point contest

When Renee Montgomery took the court to participate in the 3-Point Contest during halftime of the 2018 WNBA All-Star Game, she was not wearing her customary No. 21 jersey. Instead she was representing for No. 15, her teammate Tiffany Hayes, who was surprisingly left off the All-Star rosters.

Renee Montgomery ties WNBA record for 3s in a game 

Not only did Renee Montgomery set a Dream franchise record for 3-pointers made in a season with 78, she finished second in the WNBA behind Diana Taurasi in 3-pointers made last season.

Eight of those 78 triples came against the New York Liberty on Aug. 12 as Montgomery tied the WNBA record for 3-pointers made in a single game, matching the total previously hit by Taurasi, Riquna Williams and Shekinna Stricklen.

Montgomery also set a new WNBA record for 3-pointers in a single half as seven or her eight 3-pointers came in the second half as she finished with a season-high 30 points to lead the Dream to their sixth-straight win.

Best Off-Court Moment 

End of Season Honors Roll In

With the Dream making an 11-game improvement over the previous season and finishing with the top-ranked defense in the league, a number of end of season honors came to Atlanta.

Nicki Collen was named WNBA Coach of the Year in her first season on the sidelines as she guided the Dream to the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. She was a near unanimous winner as she received 37 of 39 notes from a national panel of sportswriters and broadcasters.

Chris Sienko was named WNBA Basketball Executive Of The Year for his role as general manager of the Dream as he was instrumental in hiring Collen as coach and signing free agents to help build the roster.

Tiffany Hayes was named to the All-WNBA First Team after averaging career highs of 17.2 points and 2.7 assists to lead Atlanta to the league’s second-best record.

Hayes was also named to the All-Defensive Second Team, while teammate Jessica Breland was named to the All-Defensive First Team after finishing as the league’s third-leading shot-blocker with 1.91 blocks per game.

Announcing Return to State Farm Arena

The Dream will return to downtown Atlanta in 2019 as their home games will be played at the newly-renovated State Farm Arena. The Dream played in this arena (then known as Philips Arena) from 2008 to 2016 before playing its last two seasons at McCamish Pavilion on the Georgia Tech campus.

“I’m thrilled for our organization to have the opportunity to be back in State Farm Arena,” Head Coach Nicki Collen said. “The renovations have made it a world class venue and l know our fans are going to be excited to experience all it has to offer.  Our objective is to make it the best home court environment in the WNBA and we will need the fans to make that happen.”

GIF of the Year

If you need to know what time it is, just ask Alex Bentley, who let everyone know after knocking down a clutch shot in the final minute against the Sparks on Aug. 9.

New Year’s Resolution

After their season-ending loss to the Mystics in Game 5 of the semifinals, Dream coach Nicki Collen had this to say: “I just got done bawling in the locker room. I’m incredibly proud of this team. We’re further ahead than I thought we would be when I took this job.”

While the 2018 Dream were ahead of schedule, the 2019 Dream will begin the season with much higher expectations. After being one win away from the Finals in 2018, the best resolution for 2019 is to put themselves in that position again and this time close out the series.