Moment No. 1 - Second Conference Title
To celebrate five seasons in Atlanta, the Dream is counting down its five greatest moments as a franchise on the court during those five seasons. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of this article, review the top five choices by the Dream and then you have the chance to vote for what you think has been the greatest moment in franchise history thus far.
Today the countdown ends with Moment No. 1 – the Dream’s second consecutive Eastern Conference Championship.
The Atlanta Dream entered the 2011 season fresh off a run to the 2010 WNBA Finals, and returned the core of that team while adding Lindsey Harding – an All-Star and previous No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA Draft. Needless to say, expectations were high, and the Dream was certainly one of the favorites, if not THE favorite, to represent the East in the Finals once again.
But the season started with back-to-back overtime losses in Philips Arena, and things just got worse from there. A loss at New York on July 13 dropped Atlanta’s record to 3-9, even with seven of those first 12 games at home. Simply reaching the playoffs appeared to be a tall order at this point, with a third of the season already gone.
The Dream won five straight to get back in the playoff race, but still stood at 10-12 with just 12 games left in the regular season, their post-season hopes in doubt. But on Aug. 12, the Dream crushed Seattle – the same team that had defeated Atlanta in the 2010 Finals – by 29 points on the road, and that victory turned the season around.
Atlanta went on to win 10 of its last 12 games, including the last four in a row, to finish the regular season with a 20-14 record, good for third in the conference. The red-hot Dream faced No. 2 seed Connecticut in the opening round, and quickly won two straight to advance to meet top-seeded Indiana in the conference finals.
The Dream’s winning streak came to an end in Game 1 in Indiana, as the Fever claimed an 82-74 victory. In a must-win Game 2 in Philips Arena, Atlanta cruised to a 94-77 victory, setting the stage for a winner-take-all Game 3 back in Indianapolis.
Indiana played the decisive third game with a hobbled Tamika Catchings, who played 24 minutes despite a foot injury, but Atlanta was not at full strength either, as Erika de Souza was absent for the second straight game due to an Olympic qualifying tournament for Brazil that was being played in Colombia.
Indiana grabbed an early four-point lead, before Atlanta got hot and took a 28-23 edge after one quarter behind 10 points from Iziane Castro Marques. The defenses clamped down in the second quarter, and at halftime, the Dream was still clinging to a 39-35 lead.
The third quarter proved to be the difference in the game. Four different players scored during a 9-0 spurt to start the period, and suddenly Atlanta had taken control with a 48-35 lead. Back-to-back threes by Castro Marques later in the quarter pushed the lead to 57-39, and Indiana never got closer than 12 points the rest of the way.
The fourth quarter became an extended victory celebration for the Dream, as the lead grew as high as 24 points before Atlanta settled for an 83-67 win. In just its fourth year as a franchise, the team was about to play in the WNBA Finals for the second straight time.
Angel McCoughtry led all scorers during the game with 26 points, making 7-of-10 field goals and attempting a whopping 19 free throws, sinking 11. Castro Marques added 23 points, Harding had 16 with six assists, and Sancho Lyttle had a double-double with 10 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.
Atlanta’s defense was instrumental in the victory, particularly during the second and third quarters. After allowing Indiana to shoot 50 percent in the first period, the Fever made just 11-of-36 shots (30.6 percent) in the next two quarters combined. The Dream also forced 18 turnovers while committing just 12.
While winning the first conference title was memorable and special for all involved, the difficulty involved with duplicating that feat the very next year makes the Dream’s second consecutive Eastern Conference Championship our No. 1 moment of the franchise’s first five seasons .
Moment No. 2 - First Conference Title
Moment No. 3 - First WNBA Game in Europe
Moment No. 4 - Fourth Straight Playoff Appearance
Moment No. 5 - First Game in Atlanta