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Angel McCoughtry has special moment in Aces’ win in Atlanta

The plan called for Aces wing Angel McCoughtry to stand in the corner at Gateway College Arena. To bask in the ovation she surely deserved during the final 7.9 seconds of a 78-71 victory over the Atlanta Dream.

But the plan went awry, and she received a pass and fired an errant 20-footer as time expired.

“My shot was out of confusion. Usually I knock that shot down.” she said with a smile. “There’s no word that can describe the feeling. It’s good to always be back home.”

McCoughtry punctuated the victory Thursday with her first appearance of the season, playing the final seconds against her former club. The 34-year-old spent the first 11 years of her WNBA career with the Dream, guiding the franchise to three WNBA Finals appearances while setting scores of records in the process.

She signed with the Aces (18-7) last year and had yet to return to Atlanta as an opponent. She tore her ACL in May, ending her 2021 season, but Las Vegas coach Bill Laimbeer approached her Thursday during a shootaround about dressing for the first time and she was receptive to the idea.

As were the rest of her teammates.

“She deserved that moment. I know obviously it didn’t look the way she wanted it to, just with her injury,” said Aces forward Dearica Hamby, who had 20 points and nine rebounds. “I know it meant a lot to her. We were all for it as long as the circumstances were right. And it worked out.”

Laimbeer had hoped to insert McCoughtry in the final seconds of one of the first three quarters, but the opportunity didn’t present itself until the end of the game. Atlanta is statistically the WNBA’s worst defensive team, but it was the Aces who struggled defensively in the first half en route to a 48-40 deficit.

But the Aces intensified their focus in the second half and were crisp in their rotations. A’ja Wilson, Liz Cambage and Hamby carried the offensive load, combining for 58 points by overpowering Atlanta’s smaller frontline. Wilson was in MVP form, posting 21 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and three blocks in the first game after her 1-of-15 outing against Connecticut.

Cambage scored the go-ahead basket and finished with 17 points.

The Aces held the Dream (6-19) to 23 second-half points, pulling away late and allowing Laimbeer to play McCoughtry in the final seconds.

“She’s been such a franchise player here in Atlanta for so many years,” Laimbeer said. “There’s a lot of respect for her in this town.”

The win was the 300th of Laimbeer’s WNBA career. He joins the Washington Mystics’ Mike Thibault as the only coaches with 300 victories.

“He’s probably like, ‘Oh, I don’t really care,’ but it’s big for him,’” Wilson said. “The best is yet to come with this franchise and this team. And we’re glad to have someone like Bill who’s not going to back down for everyone for our sake. He’s a players coach, and (we’re) glad to be alongside him.”

Contact reporter Sam Gordon at sgordon@reviewjournal.com. Follow @BySamGordon on Twitter.

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