2010 Playoffs: Atlanta Dream

Sep 11 2010 7:19PM

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Riding Postseason Momentum
By Frank Della Femina, WNBA.com

Atlanta�s second-year All-Star Angel McCoughtry admits it wasn�t an easy path to the Finals, but she also believes many teams weren�t prepared for what the Dream had in store for the postseason.

�I wouldn�t say they had us written off, but I would say they weren�t worried as they should�ve been,� said McCoughtry during Saturday afternoon�s practice at KeyArena. �I think it was, �OK we�re playing Atlanta, but we can still beat Atlanta.��

So far in the postseason, no team has, as Atlanta swept past the No. 1 seed Washington Mystics in the Semifinals and the No. 2 seed New York Liberty in the Conference Finals.

Now, as Atlanta goes up against the similarly undefeated postseason Storm, led by the likes of Sue Bird, Swin Cash and Lauren Jackson, one of the two will leave Sunday�s game with their first loss of the playoffs. For McCoughtry, who set a WNBA record of 42 points in the Dream�s Game Two Eastern Conference Finals win over the Liberty, the game plan for victory isn�t centered on just one player.

�Individually they�re tough, but as a team they�re even tougher,� said McCoughtry. �The main thing is you cannot let up, not one bit, because if you let up you�ve seen how they come back against Phoenix and other teams. You just cannot take a possession off against them.�

While the Dream will remain focused on locking down Seattle as a whole, there�s no denying that three-time MVP Jackson still poses as a double threat, both down low in the post and along the perimeter. When asked how the Dream expects to defend against the likes of six-foot-five Jackson, McCoughtry said Atlanta will bring an aggressive, in-your-face style to the court.

�The thing with her is you just have to stick to her like glue,� said McCoughtry. �Like white on rice, you can�t take your eyes off her. You just need to be wherever she is, in her space and in her face.�

Heading into Game One, McCoughtry remains confident and ready to use the team�s postseason momentum that carried them through two consecutive sweeps on the way to the Finals. Similarities to Atlanta�s regular season start are not being ignored.

�Toward the end people kind of let their guard down a bit,� said McCoughtry, referring to the final stretch of the regular season. �We had some bumps in the road but we regrouped and played like we did in the beginning when we were 6-0.�

A similar 6-0 start to the postseason would send the series back to Atlanta for Game Three with the Dream up 2-0 over the Storm.

That is something McCoughtry and the Dream would gladly accept.

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Lyttle Comes Up Big
By Frank Della Femina, WNBA.com

�When we play this way we have fun,� the Dream�s Sancho Lyttle said following Atlanta�s win over the Liberty Sunday night in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals. �When we were losing we weren�t having fun. When we start playing with smiles on our faces, we play better.�

Perhaps it�s just that simple: smile when you play, and good things will happen.

Or maybe Lyttle is a bigger factor than she�s willing to admit.

The humble, six-foot-four forward came up in a big way for the Dream during the regular season, registering 9.9 rebounds per game (third overall), 1.72 steals per game (fourth overall) and 13 double-doubles (fifth overall). If that�s not enough, then her 12.8 points per game ranked her third on the team behind Iziane Castro Marques (16.9) and Angel McCoughtry (21.1). It should come as no surprise then to see these same characteristics carry over into the playoffs.

In Sunday�s 81-75 win at Madison Square Garden, Lyttle dropped 18 points and hauled in a team-high 13 boards for her second double-double of the postseason. Although Atlanta out-rebounded the Liberty 40-28, Lyttle said it still came down to the Dream to make the most of it.

�It seems every time you out-rebound a team it�s more in your favor,� said Lyttle. �But it was a close game, whether we were out-rebounding them or not, so we just had to be patient on the offensive end and hope that we made our shots.�

Atlanta scored 22 second-chance points as a direct result of the team�s ability to crash the boards and fight for the rebound. However, it was Atlanta�s free throw shooting that kept the game in reach for the Liberty, as the Dream left seven points at the line on 24-of-31 shooting.

�We have a weakness,� admitted Lyttle of the Dream�s free throw shooting, currently ranked last in the postseason at 68 percent. �We just have to play to our strongest points in order to cover our weaknesses.�

So far that game plan seems to be working out just fine.

The Dream returns home to Philips Arena Tuesday night with the hopes of tallying that second win, advancing to the WNBA Finals for the first time in franchise history and moving within three wins away from a championship.

�That�s what everybody wants. Everybody wants that final moment,� Lyttle said.

�If we do, when we do, I don�t know what I�m going to do,� she laughed, when asked how she�d react to winning a title. �I�ll probably be bawling. I don�t know. I�m not a crier, but I probably will.�

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Dream Well Rested
By Frank Della Femina, WNBA.com

The Atlanta Dream may have posted an impressive start to the season when they shot out to a strong 6-0 start, but the second half of the season raised a number of concerns when they followed up a first-half 14-5 record with a 5-10 second-half run. To Atlanta�s credit, the team did manage to crack the top four in the tough Eastern Conference to secure a playoff spot, but as the fourth seed lacking home-court advantage the battle would be an uphill one.

And yet in the Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup against the No. 1 seeded Mystics, Atlanta stepped up its game, swept the Mystics and showed on-court signs that the Dream team that started the season was only in hiding, dormant for periods in the second half and ready to strike when it counted.

�I guess the defining point was when Washington beat us so poorly on Sunday afternoon in Atlanta in the final game of the regular season,� said Dream head coach Marynell Meadors. �Then, somehow between Sunday and Wednesday, we put things together like we�re capable of doing. It was just amazing to watch them. I don�t think it was anything that I said. Maybe it was a lineup change, I don�t know.�

No matter the reasons, Meadors won�t argue with the results.

�This team is based on energy, it�s based on defense and rebounding and balance,� the 2009 Coach of the Year said. �I think we have gotten back to that. We were so one-on-one against other teams offensively that it just took us right out of our game. And we were always back on our heels because the offense was not clicking like it should.�

Although only two playoff games stand as evidence, Atlanta�s averaging 98 points per game. During the regular season, Atlanta ranked second only to Phoenix in points per game with an average of 85.4 per outing. The second win over Washington in the Semifinals, a 101-77 rout, saw the Dream string together a high-flying, unprecedented 26-0 run that ultimately put the game in their hands.

�I really think that that is our game,� Meadors said. �We�d love to be able to do that every game but I�m not sure that�s possible. Our game is to try and do a better job on the defensive end and that creates offensive opportunities for us and that�s exactly what we�re trying to do.�

Now in the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in its young history, the Dream will take on the New York Liberty, a team that really put it all together in the second half.

�New York has come from behind and really started playing well after the All-Star break,� Meadors said. �Every team goes through a situation where they�re up and down. There�s peaks and valleys during the year.�

Perhaps the biggest issue now for the Dream as they head into Sunday�s Game One matchup against the Liberty is staying fresh and ready for playoff basketball. Nice as it was to sweep the first round, the downtime between series presents another challenge altogether. By the time Atlanta tips off with New York, they will have gone a full nine days without playoff basketball.

�We haven�t played since Friday, so that�s a long time this time of the year to have a huge break like this,� said Meadors, �but we�re trying to make sure that we keep our intensity up and our focus on what we�re trying to do and the goals we�re trying to reach. We�re doing scrimmages against guys with officials, which I think really helps us. We shorten the practices but they�re more intense.�

The first round win was a gift of sorts for Meadors, who celebrated her 67th birthday with the first playoffs sweep in franchise history.

�I told them I didn�t want anything else. No cake or anything,� she said. �But I got cake, a great card from the whole team and then we got a win and they said, �Happy Birthday, Coach,� so that was great. I wish I had a birthday again in about three weeks.�

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Angel McCoughtry Prepared to Lead
By Frank Della Femina, WNBA.com

In just her second year in the league, Atlanta Dream forward Angel McCoughtry finished third overall in scoring with 21.1 points per game, just 0.3 points behind New York�s Cappie Pondexter and over a point away from Phoenix�s Diana Taurasi. To say she�s in good company would be a bit of an understatement. Now as the Dream pushes into the postseason for a first round matchup with the Washington Mystics, McCoughtry is looking to bank on what little experience she has to help propel Atlanta to the first championship in franchise history.

�A WNBA championship would mean everything to me,� said McCoughtry. �I work hard, this team works hard. Of course everybody believes they deserve one, but I think it�s more about the heart and the job that I have to want to be a champion.�

Last year's Rookie of the Year made leaps across the board in her sophmore campaign, including a increase in points (up 8.3 per game), rebounds per game (up 1.8 per game), and assists per game (up 1.0 per game). Her rookie season ended with a first round bump at the hands of the Detroit Shock.

�Last year I didn�t really know what to expect,� admitted McCoughtry. �This year I have a little bit of experience under my belt but I think this team is ready to prove ourselves and that it wasn�t a fluke that we started 6-0. That we can finish what we started.�

That 6-0 start marked a new milestone in Atlanta�s history and ultimately put them on pace to post an impressive 14-5 record by the time the all-star break rolled around on July 10. Yet with the second half came a bit of a slump for Atlanta, who more or less watched that hot start invert itself into a 5-11 finish to the season.

�We finished on a bumpy road but I think right now it�s a new chapter,� said McCoughtry. �The regular season�s over. Playoffs is a new season.�

For McCoughtry, she�s hoping the postseason matchup against the Mystics turns out better than the regular season series. After winning the first meeting back on June 5, the Dream proceeded to drop three straight to lose the season series 3-1.

The slate is clean, the season is fresh and McCoughtry and the Dream have their eyes set on a championship come September. Behind McCoughtry�s never-ending drive for success, the Dream aims to possess a strong presence in the postseason for many years to come.

�I think further beyond. I don�t think about that one title,� said McCoughtry. �I want to beat out Kobe and Jordan and get six or seven titles. But you got to start somewhere.�

Wednesday against the Mystics could be that start.
Series Info
Game 1: SEA 79, ATL 77: Box | Recap | Photos | Video
Game 2: SEA 87, ATL 84: Box | Recap | Photos | Video
Game 3: SEA 87, ATL 84: Box | Recap | Photos | Video

Gm 1: SEA 82, PHX 74
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: SEA 91, PHX 88
Box | Recap | Photos

Gm 1: SEA 79, LAS 66
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: SEA 81, LAS 66
Box | Recap | Photos

Gm 1: PHX 106, SAN 93
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: PHX 92, SAN 73
Box | Recap | Photos

Gm 1: ATL 81, NYL 75
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: ATL 105, NYL 93
Box | Recap | Photos

Gm 1: ATL 95 WAS 90
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: ATL 101 WAS 77
Box | Recap | Photos

Gm 1: NYL 85, IND 73
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 2: IND 75, NYL 67
Box | Recap | Photos
Gm 3: NYL 77, IND 74
Box | Recap | Photos