Angel McCoughtry plays for Las Vegas now, but Atlanta remains her home.
On Thursday, the guard/forward returned to the city, where she played for a decade in the WNBA, for the first time as a member of the Aces. McCoughtry suffered a season-ending ACL injury in May, but Aces coach Bill Laimbeer and McCoughtry still hoped she could have a special moment in front of the Dream fans.
She received that near the end of the Aces' 78-71 victory.
With 7.9 seconds left and the win secured, McCoughtry was substituted into the game amid an ovation from the fans. She went to the far corner of the court, and received a pass from teammate Jackie Young. McCoughtry took an uncontested shot from just inside the arc. It rimmed out and was rebounded by the Dream's Tiffany Hayes, who then gave her former teammate a hug.
"When Bill asked me did I want to play today, get in the game for a couple of seconds, I was ecstatic," McCoughtry said, adding with a laugh that she didn't actually know she would be passed the ball. "So that's why I missed the shot.
"There's no word that's going to describe the feeling. It was an amazing day. It's good to be back home because I live here. I had a great time."
Atlanta drafted McCoughtry first overall out of Louisville in 2009, and she led the Dream to the WNBA Finals three times (2010, '11 and '13.) She sat out the 2017 season to rest after many years of playing in both the WNBA and overseas. She was an All-Star for the fifth time in 2018, but suffered a knee injury late that season that kept her out of the playoffs.
McCoughtry made a ceremonial appearance in one game in 2019, her last season with the Dream, while she was rehabbing that injury. In 2020, she signed as a free agent with Las Vegas and helped the Aces make the WNBA Finals. But because the season was played in the bubble in Bradenton, Florida, she didn't get to make a return trip to play in Atlanta last year.
"I thought about it today at shootaround," Laimbeer said of the decision to give McCoughtry time on the court Thursday. "I told her, 'If there is a spot I can put you in this game to get an ovation from the crowd ... I'll do my best.'
"Angel's not really an overly emotional person, but I thought it was a good thing for her. If it was next year, that would be two years removed. I just thought this was something to do, and she agreed."
Hayes, who credited McCoughtry for helping her adjust to the league as a rookie in 2012, added: "It was good to see Angel at least touch the floor tonight."
The Aces bounced back from a 76-62 loss to Connecticut on Tuesday as Laimbeer recorded his 300th regular-season WNBA victory, second most behind Washington's Mike Thibault (354). Laimbeer, who previously coached at Detroit and New York in the WNBA, has 35 playoff wins, is second all time to Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve's 41.
The 18-7 Aces already have clinched a playoff spot this season, along with 19-6 Connecticut and 18-8 Seattle. Those teams are jockeying for the top two spots in the standings, which guarantee a bye into the best-of-five semifinals.