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NEWARK, N.J. -- To get a feel for how the Atlanta Dream are doing in any particular game, no need to look any further than the expression on Angel McCoughtry’s face.
A fiery and mercurial superstar, McCoughtry is also the lynchpin to Atlanta’s ultimate success, and if the Dream hope to make a third-straight WNBA Finals appearance, McCoughtry will have to be as productive as she is emotional.
“Emotion is definitely women’s basketball, women are emotional,” McCoughtry joked. “I mean, if I didn’t show any emotion, and girls didn’t show a little emotion, the game would probably be a little bit boring. It’s what inside of us and it’s what makes us great.”
McCoughtry has been nothing short of great this year, averaging 22.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists in the season’s first six games. The 6-foot-1 wing also shows her athleticism by averaging 3.8 steals and 1.7 blocks a night.
“It’s tough,” McCoughtry said of playing without de Souza. “She definitely clogged up the paint for us. She makes it so much easier for me personally because they can’t double so much or help so much, but we’ll have her back sooner than later.”
Without de Souza, the Dream have stumbled to a 2-4 start after a 79-74 road loss to the New York Liberty on Tuesday night. The 6-foot-5 de Souza, who averaged 11.8 points and 7.5 rebounds in 2011, won’t be back until after the Olympic break in mid-August. Until then, McCoughtry should get used to drawing more attention than the guy that runs the T-shirt gun during timeouts.
“Angel is someone who is just a scorer,” Atlanta point guard Lindsey Harding said. “She definitely leads by example in that way because everyone knows she’s a scorer, everyone in the stands knows she’s a scorer, the refs know she’s a scorer, but she still somehow ends up with a lot of points every single game with one, two and sometimes they throw three people at her.”
This marquee role, however, is a role that the player that WNBA GMs voted this year as the league’s most athletic player is accustomed to.
Much like with Atlanta the past two seasons, McCoughtry brought her Louisville team to the championship game in college. With seemingly limitless talent, it appears that the do-it-all McCoughtry could singlehandedly carry any team for years to come. If you ask her, however, she offers -- in typical McCoughtry fashion -- a peculiar reason for why that might not be the case.
“I’m getting old,” said McCoughtry, whose life has only spanned that of five U.S. Presidents. “I ain’t got the same legs like 18, 19, but I’m used to it.
“I just need to find a way to get the team involved. My goal has always been to get more assists. I know I can score whenever I want. I can rebound, I can get steals, but assists are what matters to me, when the team is involved.”
If McCoughtry’s piston-like legs are actually slowing down -- which is hard to believe when you see the frantic, attacking nature in which she plays -- the key to Atlanta’s success really will be getting scoring out of secondary options. And, not surprisingly, that effort will be driven by, who else -- McCoughtry.
“Another thing about (McCoughtry’s) game that she is starting to learn, or not starting to learn, but doing better, is finding the open person,” teammate Lindsey Harding said. “Sometimes she’s not getting the assist, but she’s passing to me and then I’m getting the assist. So she’s making an effort to finding the open man because she’s aware she’s getting triple teamed.”
McCoughtry’s assist total this year is slightly above her career average. With opponents swarming McCoughtry each possession, ball movement is going to be paramount if the Dream hope to bounce back from a slow start and to catch up to Indiana, Connecticut and Chicago -- who have each stormed out of the gates to a 4-1 record in the Eastern Conference.
Don’t expect this team, who Harding says still has a target on its back thanks to its back-to-back Finals appearances, to be phased by their current position in the standings.
“We also understand that last year we didn’t start too well, but we’re losing games that are attainable that we can win,” Harding said “So that is hope and that is positive that we’re just a few possessions off.”
In each of those critical possessions, count on McCoughtry being the lead actress. Either she will be getting hounded by opposing defenses or she will be guarding the opponent’s top wing player. Against the Liberty, McCoughtry spent most of her time on fellow superstar Cappie Pondexter, but at times also marked the 5-foot-5 Leilani Mitchell at the top of the key and guard-forward Essence Carson, among others.
“If we didn’t have Angel we probably wouldn’t have been in the conference championship games at all,” Meador said of the past two seasons. “We really rely on her to do a lot of great things and she never lets us down.”
For someone that plays with so much raw emotion -- and may be feeling the effects of old age -- McCoughtry, for all her eccentrics, has actually been the model of consistency for the Dream. And she’s going to have to continue to shine as Atlanta’s version of a Swiss Army Knife for the Dream to win the championship that has eluded them the past two seasons.
“I’ve tasted it,” McCoughtry said. “Now I want to eat it.”
That undoubtedly would put a smile on her face.