ATLANTA — Angel McCoughtry drove the lane, sweeping right toward the basket as she breezed past the defender. She extended her arm out … but the ball glanced off the rim and she could only watch as it bounced right to and awaiting Mystics player.
It was just that kind of night for the WNBA’s most prolific scorer, and by the time she broke out of her funk, it was too late to save the Dream in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal.
McCoughtry finished with 20 points amid a franchise-worst shooting performance as Washington won 71-56, putting the pressure on these playoff’s worst road team to win away from Philips Arena to stay alive in the best-of-three series.
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“If we’re not upset right now and embarrassed on national television, then we might as well go home now and not show up in D.C.,” McCoughtry said. “Right now needs to be the turning point, this very moment.”
McCoughtry shouldered the load this season with the team’s other top scorers, Tiffany Hayes and Sancho Lyttle, on and off the injured list, scoring 21.5 points per game and leading the Dream to the East’s No. 2 seed and a fifth straight playoff berth.
But despite her MVP-caliber numbers, the Dream still struggled down the stretch, dropping eight of the last 12 games and it only carried into the playoff opener. They trailed 31-24 at halftime and by the end of the third quarter, that deficit had blossomed to 20 points.
The obvious focus of Washington’s defensive game plan, McCoughtry did herself no favors early on, going 17 minutes and 23 seconds between a first-quarter jumper and two free throws with 22 seconds remaining in the second frame.
McCoughtry had scored less than 15 points just once all season and that came in the regular-season finale against the Silver Stars when she had just six points, but only played seven minutes.
She looked like she was in for her worst statistical night of the season in going 1 of 5 in the first quarter and then took just two second-quarter shots in heading to the locker room with four points.
McCoughtry would do her best to try and will the Dream back into the game, hitting a three-pointer late in the third quarter that seemed to wake her out of her funk and then added another trey to start her scoring in the fourth.
She would go on to score 14 straight points, but couldn’t get Atlanta back in the game as she sat on the bench with a towel draped over head for the final 5:50.
The Dream shot 26.7 percent from the field (20 of 75), which eclipses the 29.2 percent they shot against the Sparks on May 25, 2008 as the lowest field-gaol percentage in team history.
“It’s not about who’s more talented,” McCoughtry said. “It’s not about who has this and that — just the heart. Heart will win you anything. We’ve just got to want it more than our opponent, and they got every loose ball, they got every rebound. They just wanted it more today.”
The Mystics haven’t won a playoff game since 2004 and had never beaten Atlanta in the playoffs before. But now they’ve put the Dream on the ropes and a team that was 4-13 on the road this season and losers of their last three away from home has to break out of its rut Saturday night.
“There’s got to be a sense of urgency of wanting to get a ring,” McCoughtry said.