Dream’s Rhyne Howard sets WNBA playoff debut record with 36 points despite loss to Wings

COLLEGE PARK, GA – JULY 03: Atlanta guard Rhyne Howard (10) brings the ball up the court during the WNBA game between the Seattle Storm and the Atlanta Dream on July 3rd, 2022 at Gateway Center Arena in College Park, GA. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)
By Sabreena Merchant and The Athletic Staff
Sep. 16, 2023

Atlanta Dream guard Rhyne Howard set a WNBA record by scoring 36 points in her playoff debut, a 94-82 loss to the Dallas Wings on Friday. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Howard broke the record previously held by Candice Dupree, who scored 32 points during her playoff debut with the Phoenix Mercury in 2010.
  • The first-round game between Atlanta and Dallas is just the fifth WNBA postseason game to feature two players scoring 30-plus points, per Across the Timeline. Wings forward Satou Sabally finished with 32 points.
  • The 23-year-old Howard — who recorded 19 points in the first quarter alone — is the youngest player in WNBA history with a 30-point playoff game, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The Athletic’s instant analysis:

Howard carried the Dream

In the first playoff game of her WNBA career, the 2022 Rookie of the Year was ready to go from the jump. Howard got to the basket for her first bucket at the 8:44 mark and continued to light it up for the remainder of the first quarter — and for most of the night. She hunted her shot in transition and flew off screens for 3-pointers in the half court.


Dallas didn’t have any defenders who could stay in front of her, or provide reasonable contests on her high release. That resulted in 19 points in the first quarter — tying a WNBA playoff record set by former Dream great Angel McCoughtry — as Atlanta built a 20-point lead. — Merchant

Sabally matched Howard the whole way

Unfortunately for Howard, her 36-point outburst was nearly equaled by Sabally, who led the Wings’ comeback with her aggressive perimeter defense. Sabally was a menace in the passing lanes, collecting four steals, forcing numerous more deflections and running the floor faster than anyone on the court to get Dallas going in transition. Her 32 points — a Wings franchise playoff record — nearly equaled the 33 she had scored in two years of postseason games before Friday. — Merchant

Atlanta continues a troubling trend of blowing leads

The Dream were three games above .500 entering August, in position to potentially earn home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Instead, Atlanta had a disastrous month, blowing four double-digit leads to lottery teams — including a 15-point fourth-quarter lead to Seattle and a 10-point lead with 3:24 to play against Indiana.

WNBA teams were 2-89 this regular season when trailing by 20 points, and 0-2 so far this postseason before Dallas’ comeback.

The offensive letdown happened earlier in this game, as Dallas erased the entirety of a 20-point deficit in the first half, but it was a familiar script for the Dream, who have to figure out how to hold on to the ball, and to leads, as they face elimination in Game 2. — Merchant


The Dream selected Howard out of Kentucky with the first pick of the 2022 draft. Atlanta missed the playoffs after going 14-22 in Howard’s rookie season. Prior to this year, the Dream’s most recent postseason appearance was in 2018 when they lost in the semifinals to the Washington Mystics.


Howard averaged 17.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists over 39 regular-season games this year.

Required reading

(Photo: Rich von Biberstein / Getty)

Get all-access to exclusive stories.

Subscribe to The Athletic for in-depth coverage of your favorite players, teams, leagues and clubs. Try a week on us.