Game 3 Notebook: Hope and Glory
ATLANTA – With tip-off for Game 3 hours away, Seimone Augustus, slayer of the Atlanta Dream in Game 2, was not in the mood to let her opponents get back into the best-of-five WNBA Finals series with a victory tonight at Philips Arena."We know this is going to be a fired up environment, so we need to be at the top of our game," said Augustus, who poured in 36 points on Wednesday to drive the Minnesota Lynx to the precipice of their first WNBA championship. "We don't want to give the Dream ANY HOPE AT ALL that they can extend this series."
To that end, Augustus said the task at hand for the Lynx is simple.
"We know the prize is on the line tonight for us and for them it's win or go home," said Augustus during Friday's shootaround. "We're not going to have any problems being focused, we know what our goal is and we are going to do everything we can to reach that goal." Pause for effect. "Tonight."
Minnesota teammate Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who knows how it feels to secure that prize, winning a WNBA title with the Detroit Shock in 2006, acknowledged the possibility of a letdown, with her squad holding a commanding 2-0 series lead, but didn't appear overly concerned.
"It's a hard question, because this specific group, this team, we've never had this situation before, where we have an opportunity to win the WNBA Championship tonight with a win. This isn't beating Phoenix to get INTO the WNBA Finals. THIS IS THE WNBA FINALS. The chance for glory is RIGHT THERE," said McWilliams-Franklin. "There's got to be that urgency to finish it, because Atlanta is so dangerous you don't want to keep prolonging it and say, 'Oh, we have another game on Sunday.' You can't get into that mindset. We have to realize as a team, this is a game we need to win, you have to take your chances when you get them."
Speaking of "Mama Taj," the usually effervescent, loquacious McWilliams-Franklin was momentarily non-responsive when asked definitively if she would be playing tonight after suffering a knee injury in Game 2 which relegated her to the bench for the entire fourth quarter up at the Target Center on Wednesday night.
"Um, that's a game-time decision," said McWilliams-Franklin, smiling like the cat who ate the canary. "Well, it seems you're moving around pretty well, so it looks like you'll be fine to play tonight, right?," asked your intrepid reporter. "Well, I can always move around pretty well, that's never a problem," replied McWilliams-Franklin. "But whether or not I can play tonight, that's a game-time decision."
So there you have it.
Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry is killing it in this series, setting two WNBA Finals scoring records in as many games and doing it from an impressive array of positions on the floor with the only common denominator being there is almost always at least one Lynx hand in her face.
But the fourth quarter has not been kind to McCoughtry and the Dream and one could wonder whether fatigue or perhaps a lack of confidence may be creeping in as the final quarter approaches.
"No, it's not really a confidence thing for me, my confidence is where it always is," said McCoughtry in a moment of introspection during shootaround. "They had their home court and did what they did at the end of games, and now we have our homecourt."
Fair enough. But are you getting tired late in games?
"I'm not going to use that as an excuse," said McCoughtry with more than a glimpse of fire in her eyes. "I'm a player, a competitor and I'm out there doing everything I can. No excuses. But how to get my teammates more involved early, that's a key. If I can get them more involved early, it will take a little bit of that [scoring] load off of me early, and maybe then I will have more gas in the tank at the end of the game."
The Dream had an extremely spirited shootaround, particularly working on pressuring the ball on defense, employing traps and double-teams at every opportunity. Lindsey Harding was leading the way, imploring her teammates by example on the court, as well as hollering out encouragment when taking a break. "Deny, deny deny!" echoed through the arena, and Harding meant it.
As the players began to leave the court, however, milling around at half-court, Atlanta center Erika de Souza grabbed a ball and knocked down a half-court shot as if on a whim. With the ball swishing through the hoop, the Dream players, and coaching staff, erupted into "Moneyball! Moneyball! Moneyball!"
When asked if she was going to bring this previously unforeseen facet of her game to the court for Game 3 tonight, de Souza emphatically replied, "That's my shot, it's the moneyball! See it tonight." And I don't think she was in any way referencing Brad Pitt's new movie.