Atlanta Dream fans hope they aren’t reliving 2011. That October, the Dream’s trip to the WNBA Finals ended quickly and badly as the Minnesota Lynx swept their way to the championship. But 2013 is a different year, and Atlanta is a very different team. Unfortunately for Dream fans, different doesn’t necessary mean better.
This year’s Dream began like a team of destiny, jumping out to a 10-1 record, the best in the WNBA, and looking as complete as any group in the league. Forward and two-time scoring leader Angel McCoughtry, along with dominant center Erika DeSouza and guard Armintie Herrington, played like the women’s version of the Big Three with McCougthry averaging more than 19 points a game and DeSouza gobbling up rebounds.
Then the injuries mounted. Forward Sancho Lyttle, a dominant inside player who gave Coach Fred Williams the ability to go big without losing his team’s firepower, suffered a broken left foot and was in a walking boot for most of the season. She began putting weight on both feet before the Eastern Conference Finals but still hasn’t participated in any drill requiring contact.
Forward La’Coe Willingham injured her right knee late in the year and remains suspect. As Coach Williams said after Game One of the Conference Finals, “I won’t sacrifice a player for a win, ever,” which was a nice way of saying Willingham wasn’t 100 percent.
Then Harrington injured her left shoulder, not severely enough to be benched for the playoffs, but enough to limit her range of motion and her contribution.
The Dream limped through the rest of the regular season, going 4-12 through July and August and finishing with four straight losses before beating Washington and Indiana to make it back to the finals for the third time in four years.
Now, DeSouza, who injured her ankle in the Dream’s victory in Indiana on Sunday, could be less than full strength, which would be devastating. The Brazilian, who chose to stay with her Atlanta teammates rather than return home to help her national team qualify for the World Championships, has averaged 11.6 points and 11 rebounds in the playoffs. She is also the team’s emotional leader with an infectious passion that elevates everyone around her. Losing her would put Atlanta in an all but inescapable hole.
The Lynx, on the other hand, have waltzed through the playoffs, sweeping both Seattle and Phoenix with strong defense and great shooting by forward Maya Moore, who has averaged 21.5 points per game. Also, Seimone Augustus and point guard Lindsay Whalen found their touch in the playoffs, especially Whalen who has averaged nine points and dictated the tempo of the last four games.
Even though Atlanta won in Indiana to make it back to the finals, the Dream have been much better at home than on the road, as evidenced by their split regular-season record against the Lynx where both teams won in their own gyms.
Unfortunately for Eastern Conference fans, the first two games will be in Minnesota and the return to Atlanta will, effectively, be in a foreign land. Games three and four (if needed) will be played at Gwinnett Arena about 25 miles north of downtown, because Philips Arena, the venue where the Dream experienced most of their success, will be hosting Disney on Ice.
Should the Dream lose, that would be, pardon the pun, a Mickey Mouse way to end the season. But Atlanta has fought through adversity all year.
Most experts predict the Lynx to win in three or, at most, four games. Almost no one has picked the Dream. But, then again, no one can measure heart or predict who might gain the hot hand.
The only sure thing is that both teams will fight to the end. They’ve done it all year. No one expects anything less with the WNBA championship on the line.