Diana Taurasi wanted the Phoenix Mercury to show the kind of intensity they'll need in the playoffs.
"It's not necessarily the best team over the summer, but the team that gets hot at the right time," she said. "Today was a little step for us to go forward."
Taurasi scored 25 points, Candice Dupree added 15 and the Phoenix Mercury won their third straight game with a 79-71 victory over the Atlanta Dream on Sunday.
Angel McCoughtry finished with 25 points and Erika de Souza had 12 points and 10 rebounds for the Dream (17-14). The loss ended Atlanta's three-game winning streak.
Phoenix (17-13) never trailed after Taurasi's layup midway through the first quarter.
"I think sometimes she gets in the mode where she's not looking for her shot, and so we've tried to encourage her," Mercury coach Russ Pennell said. "We want her to be a little more aggressive offensively, and I think she did that tonight."
Tiffany Hayes, who scored 19 points off the bench for Atlanta, cut the lead to 74-67 with a 3-pointer. But in the last 3 minutes, she had a turnover and missed two layups and two 3s.
McCoughtry, the WNBA's leading scorer, hit a free throw to cut the lead to 74-71, but she missed a 3 and a 20-footer before fouling out with 25.8 seconds to go.
McCoughtry was just 8 for 21 from the field. Dream starter Jasmine Thomas went 3 for 13.
Rookie Alex Bentley, who earlier this year broke Taurasi's 2006 WNBA record by hitting 10 consecutive 3s over the course of five games, went 0 for 6 from the field and never got in position to attempt a 3.
"Looking at the stat sheet, we had 78 shots and 25 made," Dream coach Fred Williams said. "Usually you get more of those made, but Phoenix did a good job of pick and roll plays, and with their transition game getting us on the back side."
Centers Brittney Griner and de Souza tangled at the 6:46 mark of the third and had to be separated by officials and teammates.
Griner was assessed a technical foul, but Atlanta failed to cut the lead to single digits when McCoughtry missed the ensuing free throw and Armintie Herrington threw the ball away to end the Dream's possession.
"It was just the heat of the game," Griner said. "It's over."
Over the next 2 minutes, Griner hit an 8-foot hook shot, Taurasi hit two jumpers and Bonner scored a 3-pointer that made it 59-42.
Griner finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
"We were on fire and whoever had the hot hand, we went to them," Griner said. "We were moving the ball around, and that helped us a lot."
The Mercury led by as much as 19 in the second quarter on Taurasi's 15-footer midway through the period, but Atlanta closed with an 18-6 run to cut the lead to six on McCoughtry's 3-pointer.
"The momentum kept swinging the other way," Herrington said. "Every time we would get a good break, it just went the other way. We didn't make a lot of shots, either. When you're playing a team like this, you have to put the ball in the basket."
Taurasi, the league's second-leading scorer and 2009 MVP of the WNBA finals, had a season-tying nine rebounds and six assists.
"The early lead came from good defensive play, getting the ball and getting out in transition," Taurasi said. "And on the flip side, they did a good job of pressuring us defensively in the second half, and they got a lot of easy buckets, so it was kind of a tale of two halves."
Atlanta currently holds the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed and has three regular season games remaining. Phoenix is third in the Western Conference with four games left.