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Atlanta Dream guard Tiffany Hayes missed the beginning of the season due to overseas commitments and remained sidelined once she returned stateside due to a right knee injury. Finally, on Thursday night, after missing the first 19 games of the season, Hayes was cleared to make her season debut. 

She immediately showed what the Dream have been missing, finishing with a game-high 21 points on 8-for-15 from the field to lead the way in a wild overtime win over the New York Liberty, 92-81. With that result, the Dream snapped a three-game losing streak and made sure they remained in playoff position. 

Late in the fourth quarter, it looked like the night was going to end in another frustrating defeat. Up 13 at one point, the Dream gave up a 17-0 run to fall behind, and still trailed by three in the closing seconds. That's when Erica Wheeler stepped up and drilled a game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer to send things to overtime. 

In the extra frame, Hayes took control. She hit a 3-pointer on the opening possession, then came down and hit another one the next time the Dream had the ball. The latter was a step-back in Sabrina Ionescu's face, which she followed up with the Steph Curry "go to sleep" celebration -- the same one Ionescu had used while beating the Dream earlier this month. 

As it turned out, that first 3 from Hayes would have been enough to seal the win. The Dream outscored the Liberty 13-2 in overtime, with Hayes accounting for nine of those points. "They were the aggressor, to be quite honest," Liberty head coach Sandy Brondello said. "Tiffany Hayes gave them a lift. They played with a sense of urgency and we didn't."

The only thing that kept this from being a perfect return for Hayes was an injury scare in the fourth quarter. After taking a bump from Ionescu, she fell backward and hit the back of her head on the ground. Hayes remained on the court for some time, and once she got to her feet she went straight to the locker room. Thankfully, she was able to return to the game a short time later. 

After a strong start to the season, the Dream entered Thursday night's matchup with a 1-7 record in their last eight games. While their defense had slipped during that stretch, the biggest issue, as it has been all season, is their inability to put the ball in the basket. They have the worst offensive rating in the league at 94.1 points per 100 possessions and recently scored five points in a quarter during a loss to the Sun.

Hayes, their leading returning scorer from last season, will help change that. She's still quick enough to get into the lane largely at will and has become a much improved 3-point shooter over the last few seasons -- as she showed in a major way against the Liberty. In addition to giving the Dream a much-needed primary offensive option, Hayes will also make life easier on No. 1 overall pick Rhyne Howard, who has been facing immense pressure from opposing defenses. 

After falling under .500, and with the Seattle Storm, Washington Mystics, Chicago Sky and Connecticut Sun up next on the schedule, the Dream's season seemed to be slipping away. Hayes' return changes that. There's still a long way to go before the Dream can clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2018, but their chances are much better with Hayes leading the way.