Ericka de Souza had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and the Dream used a big second-quarter run to pull away from the Tulsa Shock en route to a 92-76 victory on Friday night.
“We need momentum heading into the playoffs,” said Angel McCoughtry, who returned after a two-game absence. “We had to get off that losing streak. That was championship-type basketball with championship-type energy, so it was great.”
The Dream (19-14) were in a late-season tailspin, dropping five straight and nine of 11 entering the final week of the season. But Atlanta clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference on Wednesday with a solid 96-82 win over league-best Phoenix, then put together another strong effort on Friday.
“We have tried to stay together and play together and focus on the playoffs,” de Souza said.
The Dream finish the regular season at Connecticut on Sunday and will host Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on either Aug. 21 or 22.
McCoughtry had injections in her ailing feet before the game and said she felt much better. She played 15 minutes and scored 12 points as she worked to get her conditioning back.
Skylar Diggins, who was shut out in the first half, led Tulsa (12-21) with 24 points. She was 0 for 6 during the decisive first half. Odyssey Sims had 23 points.
“(Atlanta) is a team that if you don’t come out ready to play, they will run right over you,” Diggins said. “And that’s exactly what they did to us in the first half.”
Sancho Lyttle scored 17 points and Aneika Henry had 10 points and 12 rebounds for the Dream, who outscored the Shock 20-4 during one stretch of the second.
The Dream led by as many as 28 points in the second half before the Shock cut the lead to 10 late in the fourth quarter. Rookie Shoni Schimmel (13 points, nine assists) nailed a 3-pointer with 1:53 to play that stopped the Shock’s momentum and gave Atlanta an 88-75 lead.
Much of the Dream’s late-season struggles took place during coach Michael Cooper’s medical leave following a diagnosis of early stage tongue cancer. He rejoined the team in Seattle on Aug. 7 and has seen his squad return to the form it displayed when it started the season 15-5.
“We were just going through our bad spell. Every team has them every year,” said Cooper, whose team finished 13-4 at home. “This team is notorious for having them towards the end, but we are playing good basketball. We definitely need to practice and we got a practice before our last game and that helped a lot.”
For the second straight game, the Dream took control with a dominating second quarter. Atlanta outscored Tulsa 24-6 to build a 47-25 halftime advantage. The Shock shot 3 for 15 from the floor and missed their final eight shots en route to a season low in scoring for a quarter.
Despite facing league rebounding leader Courtney Paris, who finished with 12 rebounds, Atlanta owned a 48-34 rebounding edge.
Before the game, the Dream announced a multiyear contract extension with Lyttle, who has spent the last six seasons of her 10-year career with Atlanta.