Glory Johnson comes to life for Atlanta Dream

Johnson dropped a season-high 23 points in 32 minutes in Atlanta's 93-85 OT loss to Los Angeles

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Glory Johnson #0 of the Atlanta Dream shoots the ball against the Seattle Storm on August 12, 2020 at Feld Entertainment Center in Palmetto, Florida. (Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images)

Glory Johnson hasn’t had the start to the 2020 season that she envisioned.

Johnson signed with the Dream in February as a free agent and made her way to Atlanta for individual workouts in late June before the team left for the 2020 WNBA season in Florida. But after arriving, during the initial quarantine period, Johnson tested positive for COVID-19 and had to isolate for three weeks.

She never developed symptoms, but it took weeks for her to get the requisite number of negative tests to be released from isolation. Johnson then had to pass medical screenings before getting back on the court and didn’t make her debut for Atlanta until July 31.

When she got back on the court, she didn’t look comfortable or settled, which is to be expected after not working out in weeks and having minimal to no practice time. But as the games went on and Courtney Williams, who made her Dream debut at the same time as Johnson, began to settle in, it became more obvious that Johnson wasn’t finding her footing.

“I just think she can do so much more,” Dream coach Nicki Collen said August 8 after Johnson scored six points — both 3-pointers — in a 17-minute outing. “I’ve gotta get her doing more. I didn’t bring her in here to be a spot-up three point shooter, so I’ve got to get here to where she’s a more aggressive player. She’s an aggressive roller, she’s an aggressive popper, she’s making plays for herself. I think as solid as Glory was today, she can do so much more at both ends of the floor.”

Johnson knew it was taking her more time than expected to settle in.

“I think it’s learning my team because I missed the training camp aspect of this season,” she said on August 16. “Once I get to know my team a little bit more and get comfortable with my team and know what my teammates like to do and how I can fit in with our team, I think things will flow way better. Until then, I’ll play defense and rebound.”

In her next outing after that game on August 16, Johnson played just eight minutes and made just one basket. After the game, Collen was visibly frustrated with what she’d been getting out of Johnson thus far.

“Glory just really struggled,” Collen said. “Didn’t play with a lot of energy to me. I stayed with Monique [Billings] because she plays really, really hard and I need that same kind of energy and effort from Glory because I know she’s capable of it.”

Before Friday’s game against the Sparks, Collen was asked which players she’s challenged to produce more and help the Dream get out of their losing streak. She didn’t have to think very long about her answer.

“I had incredibly high expectations for Glory,” Collen said. “I think it’s been hard for her to find her groove for whatever reason, whether it’s new system, missing an entire camp. … I think Glory’s still trying to get her footing. I think of the people on our team that have the ability to produce, I think she’s the one that could easily do more than she’s been doing for us.”

Then Friday’s game started, and Johnson looked like a completely different player.

Moments after she came into the game in the first quarter, she ran hard in transition to catch a pass from Williams and get the layup. It was one of only a handful of baskets she’s made from inside 3-point range this season. It ignited her.

Johnson finished the first half with nine points and led the Dream with 12 points in the second half. She was energetic, aggressive in getting to the basket and, most of all, looked comfortable and settled on the floor.

Her 23-point performance with five rebounds and two assists was everything Collen thought they were getting when they signed Johnson back in February.

“I liked coaching that team today,” Collen said. “I think you guys saw what I thought we were going to get from Glory on a night by night basis when we signed her in February.”

As Williams and Betnijah Laney learned on Wednesday after combining for 65 points in Atlanta’s loss to Washington, a standout individual performance isn’t always enough to secure a win. Not for the Dream, not this year. But it was an important sign both for Atlanta and for Johnson that maybe, just maybe, the end of the season might look different from the beginning.

“I was really happy for her, because she’s really been frustrated,” Shekinna Stricklen said after the game. “Coming to a new team and she got sick at the beginning and didn’t get to do training camp, so she’s really learning everything new to her. I see it’s finally coming to her. Just seeing her going out there and playing hard and just playing her game and being aggressive, I knew it was coming.”

“I think my team and my coaching staff communicated what they want from me and what they expect from me and that’s all I need,” Johnson added. “I’m here to help my team win and whatever it takes to help my team win is what I’m going to do, whether it’s uncomfortable for me, whether I’m not really sure what to do, I know what they expect and that’s what I’m going to try to bring every single time I step on the court.”

Taking a talented, veteran group like Los Angeles to overtime isn’t something anyone expected the Dream to do. In overtime, Chelsea Gray — as she does — took over and led her team to the win, but Atlanta was right there with the Sparks for four quarters.

It was one of the Dream’s more balanced scoring efforts this season with four players in double figures — Johnson, Williams, Laney and Shekinna Stricklen — and also one of Atlanta’s most complete games of the season from start to finish. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better.

With nine games left in the 2020 season, it was an important sign that the Dream may be able to get a few wins together down the stretch and bring momentum into 2021.