Atlanta Dream Off-Day Report: Oct. 3, 2011

Oct 3 2011 6:20PM
De Souza's Absence Catches Up With Dream

MINNEAPOLIS, MINN. – The Atlanta Dream looked like they were missing a piece during Sunday night’s loss to the Lynx in Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, it’s because they were.

And when you factor in a scoreless night from center Sancho Lyttle, the Dream effectively were without two pieces.

It’s been three games now that the Dream have gone without their usual starting center, Erika de Souza, who had to travel to Colombia to compete with the Brazilian National Team in an Olympic qualifying tournament. The Dream didn’t seem to miss de Souza and her 12-point, 7.5-rebound per game average during the Conference Finals, when they set up a track meet around the depleted Indiana Fever. But if Sunday night (and Minnesota’s 40-28 edge in rebounding) proved anything, it’s that the Dream won’t be able to do the same thing this time around.

“The good thing about Erika is that she will give us physicality and size,” said Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors. “And she will give us rebounds – all things we needed last night.”

De Souza was expected to re-join the Dream in time for Game 2. But now, a reported delay in her flight back has put her return in jeopardy, Meadors said on Monday.

“She’s not here yet, I’ll put it that way,” Meadors said. “There were some flight difficulties in Colombia so I know we are trying to work through that right now.”

On Sunday night, it became clear just how irreplaceable de Souza has become for Atlanta.

It took the Lynx about 20 minutes to exploit the weakness in the Dream lineup – namely, how Atlanta just didn’t have the personnel to match up with the size, power and explosiveness of Rebekkah Brunson (26 points, 11 rebounds), Taj McWilliams-Franklin (8 points, 10 boards) and reserve forward Jessica Adair (6 points, 5 boards) – but once they started, they didn’t stop.

Not only did the Lynx’ post players take over, but down the stretch, the Minnesota guards got into the act, too. Without a true center to stop her, 5-foot-9 Lindsay Whalen gashed the Dream defense time and time again in the second half, drawing the defense in and dishing out or finishing with a layup from point-blank range.

“[Erika] clogs up the middle a little better,” said Dream guard Angel McCoughtry.

“When she’s in the game, she’s a bigger presence – a bigger body to bang against their players,” Lyttle said.

Offensively, de Souza’s absence means more than just 12 lost points per game.

Without her in the lineup, McCoughtry was forced to move from her swing guard position to the ‘4’ spot (the power forward), while Sancho Lyttle, normally the ‘4,’ moved to center.

McCoughtry’s performed capably, and often brilliantly – such as her 19-point third quarter in Game 1. But having de Souza back will lighten the defensive toll on the Dream’s star scorer, who told reporters that she’d been loading up on protein shakes and eating “lots of meat” to bulk up to play on the inside.

“Angel’s a player,” Meadors said. “I don’t care where you put her she’s a player. She’s gonna perform at the highest level that she can possibly perform at, every single game. When she walks between these lines, she’s competitive. She wants to win. She’ll do whatever she can to help us win.”

But for Lyttle, who was averaging 13.8 points per game in the Playoffs before her goose egg on Sunday, the going wasn’t quite so easy. Lyttle plays internationally with de Souza, so the two have developed a chemistry over the years that fits both players’ styles: de Souza bangs down low, while Lyttle uses her quickness to play the role of “face-up post player,” Meadors said.

“It makes me able more to do whatever I want do,” Lyttle said about having de Souza at center. “With me playing the 5 spot, it’s different for my teammates, because that’s not where I usually get the ball. But we just have to work around it. Hopefully she comes, but if she doesn’t, we just gotta play.”

“I think [Lyttle] can play better, and she’ll say the same thing,” Meadors said. “She’s basically a face-up post player that roams around, and we’ve taken her out of her game a little bit.”

Having de Souza back in the middle also allows the Dream to execute their half-court set the way it was drawn up, something they haven’t done a whole lot of in the past three games. And when the Lynx started heating up in the second half, Atlanta couldn’t slow things down.

Hopefully she comes, but if she doesn’t, we just gotta play. -- Sancho Lyttle, on Erika de Souza
By nature, Atlanta likes to run. Only Phoenix scored more points than the Dream this year, and with players like McCoughtry, Lindsey Harding and Izi Castro Marques, transition points often come in bunches. But on Sunday night, the Dream looked rushed at times, too eager to take off and run – regardless of what the numbers were – and unable to settle down and run their offense, Meadors said.

“It’s a different look when you have a pure center on the court, and we don’t have one right now,” said Dream guard and fellow Brazilian Izi Castro Marques.

“It’s tough, because a play is made with a center, so it’s a different look when you have 4 guards out there,” she said. “When you in the half-court set formation, it’s definitely a better look for our offense [with a center], because that’s how it’s designed.”

Then there’s the simple, mathematical fact that the Dream are without a big, athletic body at a time of the year when things like that are at a premium. Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus talked before Game 1 about how the Lynx all had to adjust to the pace and physicality of play in the postseason, because of how much more intense it is, compared to the regular season. And without de Souza, Atlanta’s shorthanded at the worst possible time.

“My bench gets really short when I’m down to eight or nine players, and a couple of them haven’t played a whole lot in the Playoffs,” Meadors said. “When we moved Angel to the ‘4’ [power forward], we’ve got one guard coming off the bench, and that’s Coco [Miller]. With Erika coming back I think that’s gonna give us more depth.”

Angel's Blessing...and Curse

Angel McCoughtry’s 19-point third quarter and 14 consecutive points between the end of the first half and midpoint of the third quarter might have set a couple records, but they might have helped bring about the Dream’s Game 1 demise.

The Dream wisely got the ball to McCoughtry during that stretch, and Angel took care of the rest, free-wheeling her way to the basket. But the problems started when McCoughtry cooled down and virtually every other person on the Dream hadn’t made a bucket for more than 10 minutes.


That all came to a head in the beginning of the fourth quarter, when Atlanta went scoreless for almost five whole minutes. During that stretch, it looked like the Dream had gotten so used to deferring to McCoughtry that they were left looking around, waiting for someone to take the lead.

“That’s exactly what it was,” Castro Marques said. “When she plays like that, you have to keep feeding her and giving her looks until she cools off or somebody shuts her down.”

“I think we’ve got to be in a situation where we run our offenses better and we didn’t do that,” Meadors said. “Angel, she just plays. She reacts to the situations and sometimes it’s out of our offense. Sometimes we’re able to play around that, but last night we just didn’t do that.”

McCoughtry said she takes responsibility for keeping everyone involved, and recognizing when to pull up instead of going on a run – and then letting the Lynx counter-attack.

“Me, being a leader, I need to say ‘Hey y’all, let’s slow it down and do what we gotta do,’” McCoughtry said.

So, expect a more measured attack from the Dream on Wednesday night, especially if de Souza’s back in the lineup. Well, within reason.

“When we’re hot, we have to be smart enough to say, ‘OK, we have a seven-point lead, let’s slow it down a little bit,’” Angel said. “We kept going so fast, taking quick shots and then they scored quick. Then we took more quick shots. But we learned from that, so when we get a little lead, we can slow it down a little bit.”

“Sometimes we actually do have a signal when we’re tired, where we’re like ‘Sloooow down,’” Castro Marques said. “We just have to know the time and score, and know what to do at certain times. You can’t run at all times. We can’t even keep up with our own pace if we do that.”

Something to Watch?

Lyttle had her hand taped up on Monday with her right middle finger braced in a splint.

She said not to worry about it, and that the finger won’t affect her during the game.

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