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Round 2 Playoff Preview: (4) Chicago Sky vs. (6) Atlanta Dream

Thanks to another breathtaking playoff performance by Angel McCoughtry, who scored 37 points, shot 14-of-21 from the field and dished a playoff career-high seven assists, the shorthanded Atlanta Dream were able to knock off the Seattle Storm on Wednesday to advance to face the Chicago Sky in yet another single-elimination round on Sunday, Sept. 25 at 12:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Setting the Stage

While the Dream opened the playoffs without their second-leading scorer Tiffany Hayes (suspension) and second-leading rebounder Sancho Lyttle (injured foot), the Sky will likely be the shorthanded team on Sunday as Elena Delle Donne was ruled out indefinitely following thumb surgery last week.

Despite not having the reigning league MVP in the lineup for the final five games of the regular season, the Sky were able to go 3-2 down the stretch to secure the No. 4 seed and the first round bye that came along with it. While no single player will be able to make up for Delle Donne’s absence, veteran guard Cappie Pondexter has taken it upon herself to pick up some of the scoring slack, averaging over 19 points since EDD went down, seven points above her season-long average.

Could we be in store for another scoring duel between McCoughtry and Pondexter? Back in 2010, McCoughtry scored a playoff-record 42 points (which still stands today) to outshine Pondexter’s 36-point effort to lead the Dream to the WNBA Finals. At this point, you can’t put anything past McCoughtry, who after Wednesday’s performance now owns four of the top seven single-game scoring performances in WNBA playoff history.

Regular Season Series

The Dream won the season series, 2-1, but lost the only game played in Chicago, which was also the most recent game between the two teams on Aug. 26 as the Sky picked up a 90-82 win in the first game after the Olympic break.

Over the course of the three-game season series, the Dream outscored the Sky by just two points, 270-268. Atlanta’s 90-point average was the second highest allowed by the Sky all season, just behind Minnesota at 93.7 points.

Matchup to Watch: Tiffany Hayes vs. Cappie Pondexter

With the way that McCoughtry is rolling right now – she led the league in scoring after the Olympic break at 23.4 ppg and dropped 37 on the Storm in the first round – it’s tempting to go with Angel McCoughtry vs. Everybody as the matchup to watch. Instead, let’s look at the shooting guard matchup between Tiffany Hayes and Cappie Pondexter.

Hayes will return to the Dream lineup after serving a suspension in the first round for accumulating her seventh technical foul in the final game of the regular season. The fifth-year pro is averaging a career-best 15.0 points per game and has scored in double-figures in each of her last nine games, which will give the Dream offense a boost and take some of the scoring pressure off McCoughtry, who owns the highest usage rate in the WNBA this season at 31.1 percent and saw it jump to 36.0 percent against the Storm on Wednesday.

After missing the opening game of the playoffs, Hayes should be raring to get back on the court and help the Dream advance to the semifinals. However, she has averaged just 11.3 points and shot 37.5 percent from the field – both well below her season averages of 15.0 points and 44.1 percent shooting – in three games against the Sky this season.

As for Pondexter, she has not shot the ball well against Atlanta, hitting just 15-of-41 attempts, including a dreadful 1-of-9 performance in an overtime loss in mid-June. But despite her 36.6 percent shooting, Pondexter averaged 13.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists against the Dream this season – numbers that are all above her season averages. But if the Sky are without Delle Donne, the Sky will need even more from Cappie; they’ll need the Cappie that owns the fifth-highest scoring average in WNBA playoff history (min. 5 games played) at 19.8 points per game.

Stats Spotlight: Scoring Distribution

Team %PTS 2PT %PTS 3PT %PTS FT
Sky 67.8 (1) 14.1 (11) 18.1 (10)
Dream 61.7 (5) 13.7 (12) 24.6 (1)

 

Throughout the regular season, the Sky and Dream were the two teams that relied on the 3-point ball the least as it made up 14.1 and 13.7 percent of their offense, respectively. Instead, each team dominated the league in another area of the game.

The Sky scored more than two-thirds of their points on two-point shots – their 67.8 percentage of points scored on two-pointers was the highest mark in the league. They also attempted the fewest 3-point shots (11 per game) and had the lowest free throw rate (0.261) of any team in the league.

On the other hand, the Dream own the highest free throw rate and scored a higher percentage of their points from the free throw line than any team in the league (24.6 percent). The Dream have to score from the line to help offset their poor shooting from the field as they own the second-lowest effective field goal percentage (44.9 percent) in the league, a mark well below Chicago’s 49.0 percent. McCoughtry (6.6 per game) and Hayes (5.9) rank 1-2 in free throw attempts this season and opponents averaged a league-high 23.3 free throw attempts against the Sky during the regular season.