The Atlanta Dream celebrate in the locker room after sweeping the Indiana Fever to advance to their third WNBA Finals in four years. (Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Dream)
The Atlanta Dream celebrate in the locker room after sweeping the Indiana Fever to advance to their third WNBA Finals in four years. (Photo courtesy of the Atlanta Dream)

Analysis: Atlanta has a plan -- and has been there before

September 30, 2013 - 1:47pm
Atlanta 67, Indiana 53

Hey Minny, remember us?

As the Lynx were disposing of Seattle and Phoenix in straight sets, a lot of folks figured those were the toughest tests Minnesota would face en route to championship number two.

After all, next Sunday’s opponent not only went 7-16 in its last 23 regular-season games, that group was also the victim of the first Lynx title team back in 2011.

But let’s not be too quick to raise another banner in the far north. Remember, the Atlanta Dream have now advanced to their third championship in the organization’s six seasons. That’s phenomenal.

Top that off with the fact that their superstar, Angel McCoughtry, has been in the league five seasons and has led this team to the WNBA Finals three times. She’s really incredible, really is, and she showed it as the Dream made it very clear who the better team was in their series-clinching win over the Indiana Fever.

There are essentially three ways the Dream make life miserable for opponents: Defense, rebounds and points in the paint. That’s what they do, and they were at their best doing it against a very resilient Indiana Fever team.

The Fever have to be commended for playing at such a high level this season while dealing with a slew of injuries. Coach Lin Dunn did a sensational job keeping the team on track to compete for another championship. Yet it wasn’t to be as the Dream outrebounded the Fever 43-33 and forced the Fever to shoot a paltry 28% from the field in the second game. Yes, it’s hard to win when you can’t get the ball in the hole.

All-Star Tamika Catchings had her usual big game numbers with 24 points, but the rest of the starters had two, six, four and four points -- that’s not a winning formula. But if the Fever can remain healthy next season, then this season could be a positive in the long run as so many players played key minutes – and that could result in a very deep and talented squad that will certainly challenge for their second title.

But that’s 2014. In 2013, the Atlanta Dream are hungry to win their first title. The Dream are a team that plays with at least as much passion and intensity as any team that has ever played in the WNBA -- it’s their bread and butter. They are going to do everything in their power to out-hustle, out-bang, and outsmart you.

When you take a look at their roster, this is what they were built for. There’s only one superstar in McCoughtry but they have a roster full of players who play Atlanta Dream basketball, which means that you put on your hard hat, go to work and get dirty-sweaty-nasty, and ignore who gets the credit as long as you get the win. There aren’t many awards given out to these players because they just play without anyone seeking out any spotlight, because they’re only concerned with winning.

Look at Erika de Souza, look at the hard-hat prototype in Armintie Herrington and then Sancho Lyttle, who’s been hurt but is also from that mold (and it is just possible she could play in the upcoming Finals series). The next player that we’ll highlight is just a tremendous example of management knowing what they have and what sort of player will fit in to what they have.

Look at Tiffany Hayes. No young player in the league plays with more effort and intensity than she does. She has been a perfect fit for this team: not the greatest shooter or necessarily a big scorer but because of her effort on defense, her aggressiveness getting to the basket and her understanding the mechanics of the team and how to make it all work together, she’s been an enormous asset.

The effort these players bring proliferates throughout the rest of the roster who can see the standard that has been set in place.

Take a gander at the individual rebounding numbers for the Dream last night. No player had double-figure numbers -- you could look at that, and think that possibly no one really had a good rebounding game.

You could feel that way, and you’d be decidedly wrong. What the Dream had, and have had since losing Game 1 to the Mystics in the first round, is even better than one or two players getting a lot of rebounds. The Dream have had a whole team of players attacking the boards and it has overwhelmed their opposition.

Last night, de Souza had eight rebounds, Herrington nine, McCoughtry four and Hayes six. Then young players get the message that the team has to attack the glass, and they join in on the fun: Jasmine Thomas had five rebounds and Alex Bentley had seven. This is the type of effort that can win championships. This is the type of effort that repeated for the next five games could possibly upset the mighty Minnesota Lynx.

The Lynx are unquestionably one of the most talented teams that the WNBA has ever seen, and their duo of Seimone Augustus and Maya Moore is the most lethal perimeter combo since Diana Taurasi and Cappie Pondexter beat my Bill Laimbeer-led Detroit Shock in the Finals.

But anything can happen in a championship series. Even though it would be an upset for sure if the Dream win, upsets happen. The Dirk Nowitzki-led Mavs beat the “Dream Team” Lebron James-led Heat, and just last season no one expected the Fever to beat the Lynx for their first championship.

So it’s possible, although the Fever didn’t do the Dream any favors by beating the Lynx last year because now the Lynx are coming in angry and determined -- and this time they’ll be not only physically ready but mentally ready as well.

The Dream have their hands full but with the intensity they bring to the table, again, anything can happen. See you soon, Minnesota, and remember, the Lynx aren’t the only ones who lost in the Finals -- the Dream feel they have unfinished business too, and you know the old saying: The third time’s the charm.