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Lackluster start, defensive lapses doom Aces in loss to Dream

Aces coach Becky Hammon compared Tuesday’s game to a race. The Atlanta Dream had their foot on the gas from the start. The Aces misfired.

“We were idling on the start line,” she said after a 92-76 loss Tuesday night at Michelob Ultra Arena.

Forward A’ja Wilson scored 22 points, wing Jackie Young 18 and guard Kelsey Plum 17 for the Aces, but a slow start and the re-emergence of defensive issues proved too much to overcome.

Guard Tiffany Hayes scored a season-high 31, and All-Star Rhyne Howard added 24 points for the Dream (12-14).

The loss was the team’s first since the All-Star break and ended a three-game winning streak. It also was the Aces’ first loss to Atlanta since 2019. They had won five straight against the Dream.

“We’ve got to find it,” Wilson said. “We’ve got to dig a little deeper, give a little more.”

The Aces (18-8) next host the Indiana Fever at 7 p.m. Thursday at Michelob Ultra Arena. It’s the first meeting between the teams this season.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

1. Problems reappear

For three games after the All-Star break, the Aces’ defense held up, but their issues returned against the Dream. They struggled at the point of attack, miscommunicated to allow shooters to slip free and consistently got lost on Dream plays. Hammon also was critical of the team’s physicality, mental engagement and post defense.

Atlanta shot 55.3 percent in the first half and 72.7 percent on 3s. Howard scored 19 and went 5 of 6 on 3s in the half.

“A lot of it stemmed from just one-on-one defense, one-on-one mistakes,” Hammon said.

Their struggles continued in the second quarter. The overall defense improved slightly, but the Aces continued to give up wide-open 3s. Atlanta finished 15 of 24 on 3-pointers. Howard and Hayes combined to go 10 of 14.

“We have to get off to a better start defensively,” Young said.

2. Aces go 3 crazy

While they struggled to contain Howard and the Dream, the Aces’ offense didn’t look much better. They shot 35.5 percent in the first half, launching 3s early in the shot clock and settling for poor looks instead of attacking the rim or from midrange.

“We didn’t want to drive it, we didn’t want to look for anybody else than ourselves,” Hammon said. “We wanted it easy.”

The Aces took 31 shots in the first half, and 19 were from 3. They made seven of those 3s. Their reluctance to attack the rim translated into 10 more field goals for the Dream and a 16-point halftime lead. The Aces shot 36.6 percent for the game, their lowest percentage of the season.

“It was pretty sickening to watch,” Hammon said.

3. Plum, Wilson set records

Plum set the franchise record for most 3s in a season with her 81st six minutes into the game. She dethroned Hammon, who made 80 3s in the 2012 season. Plum finished 3 of 7 on 3s.

It wasn’t Hammon’s only record that fell. Wilson set the all-time franchise mark for the most 20-point performances with two free throws late in the game, the 67th time she has scored at least 20.

Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at ayamashita@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.

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