Series Preview: New York Liberty (2) vs. Atlanta Dream (4)

Sep 8 2010 1:22AM
Who will win the Eastern Conference Finals?
Who will win the Eastern Conference Finals?
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The dream season continues for Atlanta. The reality though is the Liberty hope to wake them up.

The Eastern Conference Finals is set after the New York Liberty (22-12) knocked off the Indiana Fever, 77-74, in the deciding Game 3 of the semifinals on Wednesday. They'll take on the Atlanta Dream (19-15) in the best-of-three series beginning Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

The fourth-seeded Dream come into this meeting well rested. They've been off since Aug. 27 after making quick work of the Washington Mystics in their semifinals matchup. Atlanta's uptempo style was too much for the Mystics, who had won three of the four prior meetings this season. The Dream averaged 98 points in the series, while Angel McCoughtry contributed a quarter of those with around 24 a night. In last Friday's win, each one of the 10 players on the Dream roster posted points in the box score, while three (Iziane Castro Marques, Sancho Lyttle and McCoughtry) had at least 20.

Atlanta is dangerous on both sides of the floor. They're the league's second-most potent offense -- their 98 ppg was only second to the Phoenix Mercury's 99 -- and their defense, especially on the boards, is outstanding. The Dream's 43 rebounds a night was best by five ahead of the Mercury in 2010. The number-two seeded Liberty will have to use Taj McWilliams-Franklin, Janel McCarville and their other interior players to prevent Atlanta's bigs, Erika de Souza (12.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg.) and Lyttle (14 ppg., 9.5 rpg.), from hanging around the rim.

Gm 1: at New York, Sun., 9/5, 7 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Gm 2: at Atlanta, Tues., 9/7, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Gm 3*: at New York, Thur., 9/9, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV
New York, meanwhile, is one of the league's hottest teams. They won 15 of their last 18 games to end the regular season, which helped propel them up the East standings and into a tie with Washington for the conference's best record. Much of this success has to be attributed to the play of Cappie Pondexter (21.4 ppg), the league's second leading scorer. Pondexter not only put the ball in the hoop, but she distributed it as well, ranking sixth in assists (4.9). Her 30 points on Wednesday, including a clutch two-pointer near the end of regulation, was the difference maker for the Liberty in that tight contest.

On the injury front, it's unknown whether McCarville will miss any part of the series against Atlanta. McCarville grabbed 19 boards over the first two games against Indiana, before sitting out the third with an ankle injury. Plenette Pierson or Kia Vaughn will likely take her place in the lineup if she can't go.

New York has also seen a surge in offense from reserve guard Essense Carson. The Rutgers product averaged just 3.7 points this season, but tallied 20 in Game One, 17 in Game Two and 13 in Game Three for the Liberty. Carson's play, without a doubt, was one of the reasons the Liberty were able to get past a strong, defensive team like the Fever.

While the Eastern Conference Finals is new territory for the Dream -- this is their first trip since the team's 2008 inaugural season -- the Liberty are experts, almost. With four trips to the Finals and 10 to the playoffs, they're still looking for their first title. New York's last playoff appearance came in 2008 when they lost in the conference finals to the Detroit Shock in three. Loree Moore, Leilani Mitchell, Carson and McCarville were all part of that year's squad. McWilliams-Franklin, meanwhile, was on the Shock, which went on to win in the Finals over the San Antonio Silver Stars.

The limelight of big-city basketball is on for both of these teams. Whichever one prevails will be one step closer to the ultimate goal.

That's nothing to sleep on.


2010 Regular Season: New York 2, Atlanta 2
Some fast facts about the Eastern Conference Finals matchup:
  • The Liberty have been to six conference finals and are 3-3 in those series
  • Cappie Pondexter averaged 25.7 ppg against the Dream this season. Her average in Philips Arena was 28.5 ppg.
  • Atlanta has never played the same Eastern Conference team in the playoffs out of the three series they've taken part in
  • The Dream haven't played since Aug. 27. Angel McCoughtry averaged 28 points with three-plus days rest in 2010
Friday, May 23, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY: Dream 86, Liberty 77 | Box score
Atlanta Leaders: Angel McCoughtry (21 pts., 6 ast., 4 reb.), Erika de Souza (15 pts., 10 reb., 3 blk.)
New York Leaders: Cappie Pondexter (21 pts., 5 ast., 4 reb.), Janel McCarville (16 pts., 9 reb., 4 ast.)

Friday, June 11, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY: Liberty 91, Dream 79 | Box score
New York Leaders: Cappie Pondexter (25 pts., 7 ast., 3 reb.), Taj McWilliams-Franklin (10 pts., 6 reb. 3 ast.)
Atlanta Leaders: Erika de Souza (21 pts., 10 reb., 1 blk.), Sancho Lyttle (15 pts., 14 reb.)

Sunday, July 25, Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA: Dream 82, Liberty 75 | Box score | Highlights
Atlanta Leaders: Angel McCoughtry (28 pts., 10 reb. 6 ast.), Erika de Souza (14 pts., 10 reb. 2 ast.)
New York Leaders: Cappie Pondexter (26 pts., 6 ast., 3 reb.), Plenette Pierson (12 pts., 6 reb., 1 blk.)

Friday, August 13, Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA: Liberty 90, Dream 83 | Box score
New York Leaders: Cappie Pondexter (31 pts., 6 ast., 5 reb.), Leilani Mitchell (15 pts., 2 reb.)
Atlanta Leaders: Erika de Souza (21 pts., 11 reb. 1 blk.) Angel McCoughtry (22 pts., 4 ast., 3 reb.)


See how the teams match up position by position

Shalee Lehning, G, Dream
3.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 4.8 APG
Note: Seventh in the league in assists per game (4.8)
Leilani Mitchell, G, Liberty
9.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 3.8 APG
Note: Prior to averaging 9.3 ppg this season, Mitchell's career-high was 3.9 ppg in 2008
Iziane Castro Marques, G, Dream
16.9 PPG, 1.7 RPG, 2.6 APG
Note: Point-per-game total is a new career high
Cappie Pondexter, G, Liberty
21.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 4.9 APG
Note: Cappie's ppg total in 2010 is a new career-high
Angel McCoughtry, F, Dream
21.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 3.1 APG
Note: Finished her 2009 campaign as Rookie of the Year
Nicole Powell, F, Liberty
9.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 2.2 APG
Note: Tied a career-high seven three-pointers made on 8/14 against the Mercury
Sancho Lyttle, F, Dream
12.8 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.2 APG
Note: Registered a 20-20 game against the Fever on June 19
Janel McCarville, F, Liberty
8.8 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 2.2 APG
Note: Her 5.9 RPG is a new career high
Erika de Souza, C, Dream
12.4 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.18 BPG
Note: Finished second in the league with 15 double-doubles
Taj McWilliams-Franklin, C, Liberty
8.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 1.62 BPG
Note: Ranks second overall on the all-time list for total rebounds with 2,631