Updated: August 23, 2012 12:18AM
ATLANTA — Sancho Lyttle and Tiffany Hayes made sure the Atlanta Dream didn’t miss star forward Angel McCoughtry too much.
Lyttle had 24 points, seven rebounds and five assists, Hayes added 18 points and five assists, and the short-handed Dream defeated the Sky 82-71 on Wednesday night.
Atlanta (11-11) had a 17-point halftime lead cut to three midway through the fourth quarter before pulling away for its second win in three games — both against Chicago — since the league’s month-long Olympic break.
McCoughtry, the WNBA’s leading scorer at 22.7 points per game, didn’t play because of “personal reasons” according to Dream coach and general manager Marynell Meadors.
McCoughtry took part in pregame ceremonies to honor the gold medal-winning U.S. Olympic team and then left the arena. Asked if McCoughtry would play in the Dream’s next game on Friday in Washington, Meadors was noncommittal.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I can’t answer that.”
Armintie Price had 14 points and Lindsey Harding 13 for the Dream, who were 22 for 29 on free throws.
Sylvia Fowles scored 22 points and Swin Cash added 19 for the Sky (8-13), who lost their eighth straight. Chicago fell into a tie with New York for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Sky pulled to 69-66 on Ticha Penicheiro’s running layup with 5:41 left. But Hayes completed a three-point play 30 seconds later and the Dream regained control by hitting free throws down the stretch. Atlanta made 12 of 14 from the line in the final quarter.
“We were missing a vital part of our team and we had to come out and play very hard,” Lyttle said. “I did something different. . The coaches told me to go with the ball. I tried my shots in the first few minutes and they weren’t going in. But I kept trying to go to the rim and after that my shots started going in.”
Hayes, a rookie from the University of Connecticut, started in place of McCoughtry and was 6 of 8 from the floor. She scored six points in fourth quarter.
“It was a good opportunity to start instead of being a spark off the bench,” she said. “It felt good to be out there with the first group and contribute to an important win.”
Atlanta outscored Chicago 26-12 in the second quarter to take a 48-31 halftime lead. Lyttle scored nine of her 17 first-half points during a 12-5 run to start the quarter and the Dream kept pulling away as Cathrine Kraayeveld hit two 3s.
Cash helped Chicago keep it close early, scoring 10 of her 12 first-half points in the first quarter. But Atlanta made 58 percent of its shots before intermission to 38 percent for Chicago.
The Sky cut the lead to 61-53 going into the final quarter behind Fowles’ nine points. But Chicago was outscored 13-5 after pulling within three points.
Atlanta shot 53 percent (28 for 53) for the game.
“No team in this league can dig a 17-point hole and try to claw your way back,” Chicago coach Pokey Chatman said. “We didn’t come out of the gates aggressive and right before the second half we sputtered a little bit. We then came out of the second half and held them to 13 points in the third quarter. ... We had an opportunity. We went after their slow start by cutting the lead down and we just couldn’t sustain anything and finish it. “
Epiphanny Prince, Chicago’s leader at 20.4 points per game, played 17 minutes without scoring, taking just one shot. Prince, who missed eight games due to a foot injury before returning to the lineup last week, sprained an ankle late in Chicago’s 77-67 loss to New York on Tuesday.
“Everyone knows when a star player isn’t playing a certain way, everyone steps up,” Chatman said. “That’s in every sport.”
McCoughtry scored 25 as the Dream won 82-76 in Chicago last Friday and followed that up with 22 points in an 86-72 loss at Indiana on Saturday.
The game was the first at home for Atlanta since June 26. The Dream went 3-3 during a six-game trip before the Olympic break, and then split the first two games after the resumption of play.
After the trip to Washington, the Dream play five straight at home.
“It’s been forever,” said Meadors, an assistant coach with the U.S. national team. “I’ve been to Turkey, I’ve been to England, I’ve been to New York, Washington. I haven’t been in Atlanta much.”