ATLANTA The lesson here is quite simple: Don't make Angel McCoughtry angry. You wouldn't want to see her when she's angry.
Obvious Incredible Hulk reference aside, it was a fitting way to describe McCoughtry's mental state on Friday night, as the Dream rolled over the Storm 68-59 at Philips Arena.
In the beginning, things were rather tame between Atlanta and Seattle, typical for inter-conference foes that only meet twice a season. The Storm, riding a wave of good shooting, cruised to a 19-16 advantage after one quarter.
But sometime in the second stanza, things got a little physical, perhaps a little too rough-and-tumble for McCoughtry's liking, prompting her to strike out against the Storm in a cold, calculating and highly effective manner.
"I was getting frustrated because I'm falling to the floor by myself (upon contact) in the paint. And that's not who I am. People know I'm not a flopper," said McCoughtry, without specifying a single incident from Friday's game. "I don't play dirty, and I don't like it when people play dirty with me."
The end result: A motivated McCoughtry produced one of her most complete games as a pro, rallying for 23 points, nine boards, seven assists and five steals.
"I thought Angel caught on fire at times, made some great plays for us some back-breakers," said Dream head coach Fred Williams in his postgame address. "She's just playing some real exciting basketball for us, and we fed off her."
With Atlanta only up one late in the second quarter, McCoughtry ostensibly clinched the game with a buzzer-beating layup just before halftime, boosting the lead to three (38-35). After that, the Dream dominated the third quarter, holding the Storm to just four points (on 2 of 16 shooting) and expanding their lead to 16 (55-39).
The third-quarter flurry was a combination of frenetic Atlanta defense, wayward Seattle shooting and a frenzied tempo that seemingly left the starter-heavy Storm the WNBA's lowest-scoring team weary and wobbly.
"That's what we do," said McCoughtry, alluding to the Dream's constant desire to push the ball. "That's our identity."
Asked if she had ever tallied a triple-double at the pro level, McCoughtry reflected for a brief moment before warmly saying, "No ... I don't really care about that stuff."
What she does care about is quite simple:
At 5-1, the Dream are enjoying their current spot atop the WNBA's East Conference standings. They're also happy with an umblemished mark at home (3-0), with an average victory margin of 15 points.
McCoughtry and her teammates will also appreciate a day of rest ... before 4-1 Chicago led by Epiphanny Prince (20.7 points per game), Sylvia Fowles (13.4 points, 14.8 rebounds), Courtney Vandersloot and high-profile rookie Elena Delle Donne visit Atlanta for an intra-conference showdown.
In Williams' mind, it's too early to attach red-letter status with any game. It's even slightly implausible to think Atlanta can plow through its 17-game home slate without suffering a loss.
"(Winning every home game), that's every team's goal before the season," says Williams. "But it's very hard to win in this league. Our goal has always been just play exciting basketball for our fans, and I think we're doing that."
The above statement certainly applies to the Dream. Last year, the club toiled in third place in the East before incurring a devastating playoff loss to the Indiana Fever, the eventual WNBA champions.
But things have changed for the better this season, with Atlanta averaging 78 points per game and getting key contributions from Jasmine Thomas (13 points vs. Seattle), Armintie Herrington (nine points, four steals) and center Erika de Souva (seven points, eight boards, three blocks).
Which brings us back to the showdown talk: In one respect, Coach Williams is sage enough to know that whatever happens Sunday win or lose probably won't have great meaning come playoff time (September).
On the flip side, his star player chooses to embrace the hype surrounding the Sky (4-1).
"Let's make it a big game," McCoughtry shouted to no one in particular inside the Dream locker room. "Let's pump it up!"