Dream end season against playoff-bound Mercury
With their playoff fates decided, the Atlanta Dream and Phoenix Mercury meet Sunday to close out the regular season at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix.
The Mercury (17-16) clinched a home game in the playoffs with an 86-66 win over the Connecticut Sun on Friday. Phoenix star Brittney Griner scored 31 points, 20 in the first half, to fuel the rout of the visiting Sun.
Griner missed nearly a month, from mid-July into August, recovering from a bone bruise in her left knee and a right ankle sprain. She had her best performance since returning against the Sun, adding eight rebounds and handing out five assists to go along with her 31 points.
"I'm getting back into the groove," Griner told reporters.
Atlanta (12-21) was eliminated from postseason contention in an 81-56 loss at Los Angeles on Friday. The Dream fell behind early to the Sparks and never recovered. Atlanta trailed 26-12 at the end of the first quarter and was unable to mount a serious comeback, despite 19 points from Tiffany Hayes.
Hayes emerged as the Dream's leading scorer this season, after veteran star Angel McCoughtry decided to step away from the game last offseason. Hayes has averaged 16.3 points this season and was an All-Star.
"Tiffany is learning what a lead player has to do to help their team," Atlanta coach Michael Cooper told reporters after the loss to the Sparks on Friday.
The Dream and Mercury split their two previous meetings this season. Both games were close, with Phoenix winning 89-84 at home on July 12, and Atlanta avenging that loss with a 99-91 overtime win at home on July 25.
The Dream reached the playoffs every year from 2009 to 2014, but have now missed the postseason in two of the last three seasons. Cooper still believes the future is bright for the Atlanta franchise.
"Bright, bright, bright future for this team, and organization," Cooper said. "You know we're just going to have to take those steps to get there. It's about winning a championship, that's what I've been about since day one coming here, and that's not going to change."