Finals Preview: (1) Minnesota Lynx vs. (3) Atlanta Dream

Oct 2 2011 3:09PM
Which team will win the 2011 WNBA Finals?
Which team will win the 2011 WNBA Finals?
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Game 1: Atlanta at Minnesota
Sun Oct. 2, 8:30 ET, ESPN
Game 2: Atlanta at Minnesota
Wed Oct. 5, 8 ET, ESPN2
Game 3: Minnesota at Atlanta
Fri Oct. 7, 8 ET, ESPN2
Game 4*: Minnesota at Atlanta
Sun Oct. 9, 4 ET, ESPN2
Game 5*: Atlanta at Minnesota
Wed Oct. 12, 8 ET, ESPN2
* if necessary

The 2011 WNBA Finals features a debut appearance for the Western Conference champion Minnesota Lynx and a return trip for the Eastern Conference champion Atlanta Dream.

The Lynx finished the regular season with a league-best and franchise-best record of 27-7 as they finished six games ahead of their closest competitors. After getting past the San Antonio Silver Stars in the Conference Semifinals for their first-ever playoff series win, the Lynx went on to sweep the Phoenix Mercury to advance to the Finals.

But while the Lynx�s road to the Finals featured dominant play from Day One, similar to what 2010 champion Seattle did a year ago, the path was not as easy for the Dream.

After making it to the Finals in just their third year of existence in the WNBA, the Dream came into 2011 with the highest expectations they'd ever faced. Unfortunately, the opening month of the season was not kind, as the Dream dropped nine of their first 12 games while playing at less than full strength due to injuries to Angel McCoughtry, Iziane Castro Marques and Sancho Lyttle. Lyttle also missed the first six games of the season with commitments to her Spanish national team.

But once they got back to full strength, the Dream began to play the best basketball in the Eastern Conference over the last two months of the season. After their dismal 3-9 start, the Dream went 17-5 the rest of the way to climb from the cellar to the No. 3 seed in the East. While that secured them a playoff berth, it meant that the Dream would once again need to be road warriors if they wanted to win the title.

In 2010, they were the No. 4 seed and overcame the lack of home-court advantage to sweep through the Eastern Conference and advance to the Finals. But that was as far as they would get, as Seattle swept the championship series in three games. This year, the Dream once again found success on the road, sweeping the Sun in the first round and defeating the Fever in a decisive Game 3 in Indianapolis.

McCoughtry is the catalyst for the Dream and one of the most dangerous players in the WNBA, with her mix of speed, athleticism, scoring ability and defensive instincts. She is also one of the most passionate players on the court, which often fuels her game and inspires her team, but can also be a detriment at times.

The return of Lyttle also coincided with the Dream�s run to the playoffs this season. The long, athletic power forward is usually joined on the frontline by Erika de Souza, who missed the final two games of the East Finals and will miss Game 1 of the Finals while she plays in an Olympic qualifying tournament for her Brazilian national team.

In de Souza�s absence, Dream coach Marynell Meadors decided to go small in the Conference Finals by inserting Castro Marques into the starting lineup and going with a three-guard lineup to exploit their advantage in athleticism. Castro Marques responded with her two best games of the season to help the Dream advance. Meadors will have a similar decision to make in Game 1 of the Finals before de Souza returns for Game 2.

Together, Lyttle and de Souza form a potent front line combo, but the Lynx seem to have the perfect counter with their own athletic four in Rebekkah Brunson and the veteran savvy of Taj McWilliams-Franklin in the middle. Both Brunson and McWilliams-Franklin struggled in the first two games of the Conference Semis against San Antonio, but they since bounced back to help the Lynx to impressive wins in the decisive Game 3 with the Silver Stars (18-point win), as well as Game 1 (28-point win) and Game 2 (17-point win) of the West Finals against Phoenix.

While the play of the front line is important to the Lynx�s success, their star power plays on the perimeter with league assist leader Lindsay Whalen orchestrating the show at the point, scoring machine Seimone Augustus at the two guard and rookie sensation Maya Moore at the small forward.

After two seasons marred by injury, Augustus has returned to form; she is capable of taking over any game with her ability to score from any spot on the floor. The last time she was this healthy the Lynx needed every single point she could provide in order to compete. That is no longer the case.

With the influx of talent in Minnesota over the past two seasons � Brunson (dispersal draft), Whalen (trade), McWilliams-Franklin (free agent) and Moore (college draft) � the Lynx now feature one of the most balanced attacks in the WNBA. In the past, an off shooting night from Augustus was insurmountable, but now there is enough talent surrounding her to pick up the slack. It also forces defenses to play her one-on-one more often, which only makes her more dangerous.

On the other wing is Moore, the 2011 Rookie of the Year, and a player accustomed to playing for championships. Moore admitted to being nervous prior to her first WNBA playoff game and it showed in her performance, as she averaged 13 points and five rebounds while shooting under 40 percent in the Conference Semifinals. She wouldn�t stay down for long, as she responded with outstanding play in the Conference Finals, averaging 18 points, seven rebounds and shooting 57 percent from the field -- including a blistering 73 percent from 3-point range.

Watching the last two months of play in the regular season, no teams were hotter than the Lynx and Dream heading into the postseason. So this matchup does not come as a surprise. But now that it is here, how will things play out?

Will the league�s best team throughout the entire season finish the job to claim their first WNBA title?

Or will the team that came up short in the Finals a year ago find a way to hoist the trophy this time around?

Some fast facts about the Finals matchup:
  • The Lynx swept the season series with the Dream in a home-and-home two-game set in mid-June. This was early in the season, when the Dream were still struggling to come together, and is not a true indicator of how competitive this series should be.
  • This series features two of the three highest-scoring teams during the regular season. The Dream finished second in the league with an average of 82.50 points per game, while the Lynx finished third at 81.50.
  • The Lynx were much better defensively during the regular season as they finished second in the league in points allowed with an average of 73.62 points per game, while the Dream were third to last at 80.79.
  • This is the first Finals in WNBA history to feature two female head coaches.
  • National team commitments have forced to Dream to play eight games shorthanded during the regular season and playoffs. This will increase to nine with de Souza's absence in Game 1 of the Finals.
  • After being ravaged by injuries for the past two seasons, the Lynx stayed healthy throughout the season. They used the same starting lineup for 33 of their 34 regular season games as well as all of their playoff games.
  • This series features four No. 1 overall draft picks with two per team: Minnesota's Seimone Augustus (2006) and Maya Moore (2011) and Atlanta's Lindsey Harding (2007) and Angel McCoughtry (2009).

2011 Regular Season: Minnesota 2, Atlanta 0

Friday, June 17, 2011, Target Center, Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota 96, Atlanta 85 | Box score | Highlights
Minnesota Leaders: Seimone Augustus (25 pts, 5 reb, 3 ast), Taj McWilliams-Franklin (18 pts, 14 reb)
Atlanta Leaders: Angel McCoughtry (27 pts, 8 reb, 4 stl), Erika de Souza (18 pts, 11 reb)

Sunday, June 19, 2011, Philips Arena, Atlanta, GA: Minnesota 77, Atlanta 64 | Box score | Highlights
Minnesota Leaders: Seimone Augustus (19 pts, 6 reb), Maya Moore (12 pts, 8 reb, 5 ast)
Atlanta Leaders: Erika de Souza (10 pts, 12 reb, 4 blk), Lindsey Harding (14 pts, 3 ast)

See how the teams match up position by position
Note: All statistics are from regular season.

Lindsay Whalen, G, Lynx
13.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 5.9 APG
Note: Led league in assists (5.9)
Lindsey Harding, G, Dream
10.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 4.0 APG
Note: First season with dream, led team in assists
Seimone Augustus , G-F, Lynx
16.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.2 APG
Note: 8th in the league in scoring
Armintie Price, G, Dream
8.5 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 2.8 APG
Note: Earned career-high in PPG
Maya Moore, F, Lynx
13.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.6 APG
Note: Led all rookies in scoring and minutes and second in rebounds
Angel McCoughtry, F, Dream
21.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 2.5 APG
Note: MVP candidate, second in WNBA in PPG
Rebekkah Brunson, F, Lynx
10.2 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1.2 APG
Note: Pulled down 48 rebounds in four games vs. Silver Stars
Sancho Lyttle, F, Dream
10.0 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.1 APG
Note: Team leader in rebounds
Taj McWilliams-Franklin, C, Lynx
8.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 2.4 APG
Note: Second most prolific rebounder in WNBA history
Erika de Souza, C, Dream
11.8 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.3 BPG
Note: Has started every game that she has played over last 3 years

Western Conference

Conference Finals

Conference Semi Finals

Eastern Conference

Conference Finals

Conference Semi Finals