By Kayte Ledbetter
The Dallas Wings (1-0) defeated the Atlanta Dream (0-1), 94-82, in Game 1 of the first round of the 2023 WNBA Playoffs, coming back from a 20-point deficit at one point.
After the Wings struggled to put up any points through the first two minutes of play, Satou Sabally drew an and-one opportunity to put Dallas on the board. Sabally recorded the first nine Wings points on 2-3 shooting from the floor and 5-5 shooting from the free throw line to offset Atlanta’s first 16 points. Even while not scoring herself, Sabally was working the offense, assisting Arike Ogunbowale’s first basket of the evening. Sabally followed with her third field goal of the contest to cut the Atlanta lead to three after trailing by as many as seven. Despite what seemed like offensive traction for Dallas, Atlanta continued their strong play and gained a 14-point lead.
Dallas attempted 17 shots in the first quarter with 41.2% of their shots falling, while Atlanta attempted 22 with 63.6% success that included six baskets from three on 85.7% shooting. Their threes fueled an effort that saw them outscore the Wings by 15 points in the opening quarter. Part of Dallas’ detriment were their seven first quarter turnovers.
2022 WNBA Rookie of the Year, Rhyne Howard, led Atlanta’s scoring in the first quarter with 19 points on 8-10 shooting, including 3-3 shooting from three. Her 19 points represent the most in a first quarter of a playoff game in WNBA history, and ties fellow Dream player Angel McCoughtry for the most points scored in any quarter in the WNBA postseason. Sabally led Dallas’ scoring efforts with 13 points and led their assist efforts as she assisted 66.7% of the Wings baskets.
The Dream began the second quarter with yet another three, a basket the Wings were able to offset to not allow Atlanta to pull away even farther. After trailing by 20 points at the 8:47 mark, Dallas worked to make a dent in Atlanta’s lead, bringing it to 15 before coming back to tie the game with a 17-3 run. Rookie Maddy Siegrist’s first playoff basket of her career came during the run, a putback layup that forced an Atlanta timeout. Using an and-one opportunity, the Dream grabbed the lead once again, a lead that lasted 10 seconds as Dallas’ own and-one opportunity for Teaira McCowan tied the game at 49 all leading into the half.
In the second quarter that saw Dallas outscore Atlanta 28-13, Ogunbowale led the Wings, scoring 11 points, followed by Sabally and Odyssey Sims off the bench who totaled five points each. Former Wing Allisha Gray scored the only points for Atlanta, recording eight points. Aari McDonald and AD Durr combined for the five other Atlanta points off the bench. Dallas shot 55% (11-20) in the second quarter, while holding Atlanta to just three field goals (3-17, 17.6%).
After an equal fight that lasted the first five and a half minutes of the third quarter, Dallas gained their first lead of the night with a layup from McCowan that earned the Wings a 61-59 advantage. Rhyne Howard regained the lead with a three, a mistake the Wings had seemed to make too many times as Howard was 5-6 from three at that point. Luckily, the Dallas defense was affective, as they missed their first five shots following Howard’s game-tying basket. Atlanta sunk just one basket during that span, allowing for Sabally to tie the game once again with her eighth basket of the game. Despite Sabally’s second game-tying basket in under a minute, Howard’s third three in the span of three minutes gave Atlanta a three-point advantage leading into the final quarter.
Similar to the first quarter, Howard was the leading scorer for Atlanta with 12 points, while Sabally was the leading scorer for Dallas with nine points. Unlike the first quarter, the Wings had seemed to get their turnovers under control, as they only lost possession of the ball twice in the quarter.
Atlanta began the fourth the exact same was they had ended the third, with yet another three. Sims quickly made up for the basket with her second three-point basket of the night. With the combination of a made free throw by Ogunbowale and a McCowan layup, Dallas tied the game for the seventh time. Satou Sabally’s 30th point came as her fourth game tying basket, a basket that represented the first of a 7-0 Dallas Wings run. With a four-point lead, Dallas’ largest of the night, the Wings were forced to either maintain the lead or build upon it to secure game one of the series. Dallas went with the latter as an 18-6 run closed out the game for a 12-point Wings victory.
Each Dallas starter registered points in the fourth quarter, combining for 22 of their 27 points, while Veronica Burton and Sims combined for the additional five. Atlanta was held to just 17.6% from the floor and 12 points in the final quarter.
Satou Sabally finished with 32 points, the most points in a game in franchise playoff history. Sabally’s 32 points accompanied five rebounds, four assists and four steals. Arike Ogunbowale followed with a career playoff high 24 points alongside nine rebounds, a team leading seven assists and four steals.
Teaira McCowan recorded her first double-double of her playoff career with 17 points and a playoff high 14 rebounds. Of her 14 rebounds, seven were offensive.
Rhyne Howard finished with 36 points to record the most points in a WNBA playoff debut and was the youngest played in league history to record 30 or more points in a playoff game. Howard sunk eight threes, accounting for 61.5% of Atlanta’s baskets from beyond the arc. Alisha Gray followed with 21 points and seven rebounds.
The teams will return to College Park Center on Tuesday, September 19 for Game 2 of the series at 8 p.m. CT. Live coverage will be available on ESPN.