New York, NY – The only group of people that were not surprised that the Atlanta Dream advanced to the 2010 WNBA Playoffs were the staff and fans of the Dream. This is a good Atlanta team who at one point in time was in first place in the Eastern Conference standings, while sweeping a very tough Washington Mystics team in Round One of the Eastern Conference Semi-Final’s
Coming out with great energy after a long break the Dream kept their playoff hopes alive with a huge Game One victory over the New York Liberty by the score of 81-75 on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. Leading the way for Atlanta was forward Angel McCoughtry who had 21 points and five rebounds.
Atlanta who was the best rebounding team in the WNBA showed a very strong showing on the backboards grabbing a whopping 40 total boards. Leading the way was center Sancho Lyttle who had a huge night, finished with a double-double netting 18 points and 13 boards. Forward Erika de Souza also had a double-double with 12 points and 11 boards.
“The Dream are a very good rebounding team so you have to keep your focus and put them on your backs and not give them shots and that is the one area we were not able to perform on,” head coach Anne Donovan said after the game.
Cappie Pondexter would have this to say of the game, “Atlanta is a good team. They do what they do well and they definitely did that tonight. We have to make adjustments in terms of how we approach the game. We have to start the game off very aggressive and we have to contain them on the rebounds like we did the second half. They did a great job of playing the transition game. We have to limit Angel McCoughtry going to the free throw line as much as she did today and if we do that I think we’ll be coming back to the Garden for Game Three.”
Lyttle sparked the Dream’s offense from the start netting the first six points for the team before Angel McCoughtry and company finally followed the center’s lead. McCoughtry who always has had a tendency to carry team’s on her back from her collegiate days came alive in the fourth quarter to net 13 points.
Lyttle had this to say of her performance tonight, “I am now getting more of an opportunity to play here with Atlanta and now have a great opportunity to help this franchise win.”
“We have to look back at the way we built the Atlanta Dream team,” head coach Marynell Meadors said of her team after the game. “It’s built on speed, quickness, depth and balance. I think we’ve got great balance from top to bottom, and everybody comes to play. Everybody knows they’re probably going to get in the game, so they’re always ready to play. When one doesn’t play well another one will and that’s the great balance and depth we have.”
The Dream along with rebounding also have some form of kryptonite defense. With having been able to keep both the Washington Mystics and the Liberty off of the scoreboard for the most part offensively. Atlanta also dominated the second chance opportunities netting a total of 22 shots.
“I think at halftime, they had 15 second chance shots already. It is a tough task and I do not know if we are going to come out ahead on the rebounding margin, but what I know is that we cannot give them second chance shots. At that end, we have to do a better job.” Coach Donovan would say.
One thing that may have hindered the Liberty’s chances of a victory is the play of forward Janel McCarville, who is still out with a sprained ankle. McCarville who is the team’s leading rebounded was missed. New York who used its super subs to help them get into tonight’s finals, could not get the same type of contributions tonight.
“Janel was missed in tonight’s game,” Coach Donovan would say. “But our bench was able to step it up in Game Three and we really missed that tonight. The minutes you get on the floor when you are on the bench are earned from what you did on the floor the last game.”
It took the very last seconds of the Fourth Quarter to decide a winner between the two teams as New York was able to have a one point lead with 54.9 seconds remaining. Guard Cappie Pondexter had the ball in her hands to shoot two free throws, which gave New York the lead, while also allowing the 14,248 in attendance to finally explode.
“New York’s crowd is amazing. There were a couple of times when it was deafening. I was trying to call plays and my teammates could not even hear me and they were a few feet away. Congratulations to them for being able to bring a crowd like that, but that is one thing you have to do as a player is tune it out. You can’t worry about those elements of the game. We did a good job and stuck together,” said guard Shalee Lehning, who finished the night with eight points and five assists.
Pondexter lead the way offensively for New York finishing the game with 24 points and four assists. Forward Plenette Pierson had 18 points and five rebounds while Nicole Powell tallied 15 points and four rebounds. The lone double figure rebounded was center Taj McWilliams-Franklin who recorded 11 boards.
“You can’t predict the playoffs, exactly what’s going to happen, but I think the Atlanta Dream just refuse to lose tonight,” coach Meadors would say of her resilient team. In again another classic matchup between two teams, as there were seven times the two teams were tied seven times to go along with six lead changes.
One can tell that the fans were holding their breath throughout the game; they voiced their displeasure throughout the game as some questionable officiating was found throughout parts of the Sunday night game. And as quickly as the Garden was able to explode the air would be let out again, as McCoughtry and Lyttle would end the game as they started it by scoring and closing out the Game One victory.
Lyttle had this to say on her team being able to keep focused inspire of the tight game, “We practice all of these situations in Atlanta. It may be stressful but it help kept us focused, we see these situations all the time. Tonight was the same thing, we are down by four points and all we needed was to go out and get it done.”
“Right now it is all about who wants to win more, it is about the will to win,” Pondexter would say after the game. “We need to do whatever we have to-to bring it home and most importantly we need to stay together.”
The series now shifts to Atlanta for Game Two of this Three Game series on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. It is do or die time for New York if they want to keep their playoff dream along with a shot to advance to the WNBA Finals to face the Western Conference Champion Seattle Storm.
“We need to get that hunger in the belly and come out fighting in Game Three,” Pondexter would say. “These New York Fans deserve something special and I will do everything in my power to do just that.”