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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Lynx Bounce Back from Double-Digit Deficit to Take Game 1 of WNBA Finals, 88-74

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Photo Caption: Rebekkah Brunson heads to the hoop for two of her 26 points—a team high and a WNBA playoffs career high for 6-2 Minnesota power forward who was named to the league’s Defensive First Team this week. Brunson made it a double-double with 11 rebounds to go with two blocks in leading the Lynx to an 88-74 victory over the Atlanta Dream and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-five WNBA Finals series on Sunday night at the Target Center in Minneapolis in front of the second largest crowd in franchise history.

Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

By Lee Michaelson
& Sharon Crowson

Three days after being named to the WNBA’s All-Defensive First Team, Rebekkah Brunson got the job done—on both ends of the floor—to lead the Minnesota Lynx back from a 12-point first-half deficit to an 88-74 victory over the visiting Atlanta Dream in Game One of the WNBA Finals in Minneapolis on Sunday.

With Atlanta’s 6-5 starting post Erika de Souza still in transit from Columbia where she helped the Brazilian National Team to the gold medal in the FIBA Americas Championship for Women on Saturday, the Dream stuck with the quicker, smaller starting line-up that had helped them overcome the Indiana Fever, 2-1, in the Eastern Conference Championship series. Despite 33 points from a slender, 6-1 Angel McCoughtry, who is playing out of position as a power forward in de Souza’s absence, and 20 more from point guard Lindsay Harding, that smaller, quicker line-up did not serve them well—at least not well enough—against the Minnesota Lynx, who are pretty darned quick in their own right, but big enough to dominate the paint.

And that they did, with Brunson, who also had 11 boards (seven of them on the offensive glass) to make it a double-double, plus two blocks, leading the charge. Seimone Augustus added 22 points plus seven assists; Lindsay Whalen contributed 15, while dishing out six assists; and Maya Moore chipped in 11, to go with six boards, two steals and two swats.

“Rebekkah Brunson was about as key as you could get,” said Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve after the game. “Rebekkah was huge. ... I thought she set the tone. Thought she had a nice first half defensively. She’s stroking the ball well. Put a lot of time in, in her face-up game. When McCoughtry was guarding her, we tried to get her some post-ups.

“We found her more on the move, not necessarily sitting on the block posting up. Some nice pick-and-roll situations. And Seimone had seven assists. Sure a few of them were [to] Brunson. And her energy on the glass! Five “O” boards, and obviously she was feeling great. And we needed every bit she gave us tonight.”

Teammate Lindsay Whalen agreed.

“She was really awesome tonight,” said Whalen of Brunson, who more than doubled her season-average point production in Sunday night’s game. “She just seemed to make huge shots when we needed them all night. She was hitting the free-throw line jumper. She was running in transition. She was getting steals.

“She was all over the place. She just played a huge role for us tonight, and she really carried us at times. You can’t really say enough about her effort tonight.”

But perhaps the unsung hero of the game was 40-year-old veteran forward-center Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who despite playing through a stomach flu that forced her to race off the court to the locker room at one point in the first half, just missed a double-double herself. McWilliams-Franklin played more than 30 minutes, putting up eight points, but pulling down 10 rebounds, serving up three dishes, grabbing two steals, and batting down three rejections. Beyond that, McWilliams-Franklin always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, breaking up Atlanta passes to slow down the Dream transition game, diving to the floor after loose balls, setting up teammates with well-timed picks and screens.

Reeve searched for words to describe McWilliams-Franklin’s efforts.

“I just told Taj—she’s such a warrior. I appreciate the heck out of that. ... [S]he wasn’t doing so well. And at halftime [trainers] attempted to get an IV into her. They couldn’t get an IV in her.

“So she came back out and was ready to roll and didn’t want to come out [of the game]. ... Just Taj is just a—I guess ‘warrior’ is the only word I can think of. But she’s just somebody you can count on all the time, every possession.”

Photo Caption: Warrior Princess? Minnesota’s Taj McWilliams-Franklin played through a stomach flu so severe she was forced to race off the court and into the locker room during a first-half break in play, and spent the better part of halftime attended by trainers unsuccessfully to get an IV started to replenish her fluids. Still, the veteran toughed it out for more than 30 minutes, finishing with eight points, 10 boards, three swats, three assists and two steals, and a host of other contributions that don’t show up in the stat sheet.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee MIchaelson©

Brunson, too, has been under the weather, according to Reeve, but it certainly didn’t show in this game. The 6-2 Georgetown product, who got the primary defensive assignment on Dream superstar McCoughtry, is only an inch taller than her adversary, but is considerably beefier, much better physically built for banging away in the post, and is also a regular rebounding machine, making her seem much bigger than the yardstick would indicate.

McCoughtry made light of the mismatch after the game:

“I’ve been drinking a lot of protein shakes, eating a lot of meat, trying to build myself up a little bit to bang down there,” said McCoughtry. “But my metabolism is too high. As many times as I use the bathroom before a game, it ain’t going to work.

“But it’s just a mental thing. I don’t want to say I’m playing out of position. I don’t want to think that way, but it is tough banging down there with them [sic] big bodies. To my advantage, I have to try to use my quickness. I mean, tonight I wish I would have done better on the boards, boxing out Brunson and Taj, a couple of others.”

But Minnesota’s ability to exploit the hole in the Dream’s post game was no laughing matter for Atlanta, as the Lynx walked way with a 40-28 rebounding advantage and a 52-30 edge in points in the paint. The Lynx knocked down 26 of their 49 attempts in the key, while the Dream netted only 15 of their 42 shots in the key.

True, as Atlanta Coach Marynell Meadors pointed out after the game, not all of Minnesota’s paint points were the product of post players camping in the lane and dropping them in from down low—though Brunson did quite a lot of that, logging a playoff personal-best in the fifth 20-plus point/10-rebound game of her WNBA career.

“A lot of those [paint points] were on drives,” said Meadors. “It was on drives. A lot of drives. Lindsay Whalen hurt us penetrating and scoring inside.”

Indeed, she did, as Whalen put on a circus act, dropping in one reverse lay-up after another, especially during the second half. But the bottom line is that the huge hole deSouza’s absence has left in the Atlanta post left the Dream with no way to stop the hemorrhaging, whether the Lynx scoring was coming off dribble penetration or low-post chippies.

Photo Caption: It’s not the way most coaches would teach you to finish a lay-up, but time-and-again Minnesota’s Lindsay Whalen made it work, repeatedly penetrating the paint to drop in reverse lay-ups, one more dramatic than the next. The Minnesota point guard and hometown favorite daughter finished with 15 points to go with six assists, two rebounds, a steal and even a block.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

It’s also true that the Dream didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in this game (just 37.3 percent from the field, to 46.1 percent for Minnesota), and there again, the Lynx’ post superiority deserves at least part of the credit. Blocks don’t begin to tell the whole story on defense, and there were certainly times when Minnesota allowed Atlanta to tear off on run-outs as they stood around flat-footed, watching.

For the most part, however, the Lynx’ defense was superior, and a Minnesota block party had a lot to do with it. The Lynx set a WNBA Finals team record with 11 blocks, and though McWilliams-Franklin led the way at center with three, in this department, the entire team got in on the act, with Augustus, Brunson, and Moore contributing two apiece. The previous record was 10, set in 2001, by the Los Angeles Sparks against the Charlotte Sting.

The two teams combined for 17 blocks (Atlanta swatted down six), another WNBA Finals records, breaking a mark of 16 held jointly by Los Angeles (2001) and the Phoenix Mercury (2009).

All of this points to the biggest adjustment Atlanta needs to make if the Dream hope to extend this series beyond the three-game sweep they experienced at the hands of Seattle last year: That is, return de Souza to Atlanta blue, instead of Brazilian green and yellow.

“We will have her for Game Two,” Meadors declared emphatically.

How big a difference her presence will make in this series can only be determined on the playing court, but Meadors was quick to point out the probabilities:

“Erika has averaged about 12 to 15 points per game and right around 12 rebounds. So that tells you what we miss in her. Her physicality. We don’t have anybody that can match her physicality inside.”

Not only will the Dream benefit from de Souza’s personal production (a regular-season average of 11.8 points and 7.5 rebounds, and a playoff average this year of 12 points and 10.7 boards, to be exact), but her presence will also take some of the pressure off fellow starting center Sancho Lyttle, whom the Lynx held scoreless and limited to just five rebounds in Game One. The 6-4 Spaniard averaged 10 points and 6.3 rebounds per game this season and 11.8 points and 6.3 boards in this year’s playoffs, playing, for the most part, alongside deSouza.

“If Erika comes in here and plays her physical game like she does and she gets rebounds, ... it also loosens up Sancho Lyttle a little bit to fly to the rim,” said Meadors.

And just in case anyone missed the importance Meadors attaches to de Souza’s return, consider her response to a reporter who had the temerity to ask whether the Dream would have to undergo any sort of “relearning” or “an adjustment” in “transitioning” de Souza back into flow after Atlanta’s success in using its smaller line-up against Indiana:

“The transition is she’s on an airline headed in this direction, okay?” said Meadors with a bit of an edge in her voice. “I mean, I think she’s going to be in the flow. She’s played every day since she left us. They [Brazil] won the championship. They qualified for the Olympics. So thank goodness that’s out of the way. We get her back and she can help us win a few games here.”

As important as de Souza’s return will undoubtedly be to the Dream’s future in this series, however, that’s not the only thing Meadors and her staff will have to consider when they get a chance to review the tapes from Game One. Another important issue: Finding a way to break up Minnesota’s effective ball movement and to create some of their own.

The Lynx notched 22 assists (the third-most in WNBA Finals history) on their 35 makes on Sunday. In other words, nearly 63 percent of their buckets came as a result of a well-time and on-target dish. In contrast, the Dream passed out only 11 assists on their 28 field goals. 

In addition, while both teams kept a reasonably good handle on the basketball, Minnesota passed out those 22 assists with just 10 turnovers (six of which came during a stretch in the first half when the Lynx were rushing not just their shots but their play as a whole) for a collective 2.2:1 team assist-to-turnover ratio. In contrast, the Dream’s 11 assists came at the expense of nine turnovers, putting Atlanta just barely in positive territory in the assist-to-turnover department.

Another way of looking at it: The Dream didn’t pass the ball nearly enough, and when they did, they were nearly as likely to throw it away as they were to score of it.

That’s one reason why McCoughtry’s efforts, as outstanding as they may have been on an individual basis—her game-high 33 points represent the second-highest individual scoring output in WNBA Finals history, just two points shy of the record McCoughtry holds (35 points last year against Seattle)—would not prove enough to carry her team to victory.

It’s not that McCoughtry, who scored almost half of her team’s total points, was hogging the basketball, or getting caught up in volume shooting, though she certainly wasn’t looking to dish (assists: 0). The Louisville alum shot a more than respectable 10-of-20 (50 percent) from the field, and an impressive 11-of-12 from the line. It’s more a matter of getting the rest of her team—other than Harding, who notched 20 on an equally respectable nine-of-19 (47.3 percent) from the field and a solid two-of-three (66.6 percent) from downtown—involved.

Photo Caption: Minnesota’s Maya Moore (White, No. 23) is a second late in getting out on Atlanta’s Angel McCoughtry (Blue, No. 35), and McCoughtry makes her pay. The Atlanta star, who missed out on leading the league in regular-season scoring by thousands of a decimal place this year, logged a game-high 33 points in Sunday’s Game One of the WNBA Finals, setting several records along the way. Her evening’s work placed second in WNBA Finals history, behind the record (35) she set last year against Seattle. Her 19 points, which kept Atlanta alive in the third period, set a WNBA Finals record for points in a quarter, and the 14 consecutive points she netted spanning the end of the first half and into the third quarter were also an all-time Finals record. Unfortunately for Atlanta fans, however, the ultimate outcome proved once again that basketball is a team, not an individual, sport.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

McCoughtry herself recognized the need to do exactly that. While her focus at the time was not aimed at the Dream’s poor assist-to-basket or assist-to-turnover ratios, McCoughtry acknowledged that Atlanta needed to get better ball distribution going:

“That’s the thing—I feel if we got them [her teammates] more involved, they’d score their normal 10 points, then that’s the game right there. So we’re going to figure out a way the next game to get them more involved. We’ve got to. They definitely are a big part of our team and we need them.

“So I take that responsibility as the leader of this team to look for them more and get them involved, especially Sancho in the post.”

Of course, the Lynx, too, will need to make some adjustments—though Coach-of-the-Year Cheryl Reeve wasn’t willing to reveal her strategy—in hopes that Game Two looks a lot more like the fourth quarter of Game One and a lot less like the second.

Much of the first period resembled the early rounds of a boxing match, with each team feeling out the other and matching one-another more or less blow-for-blow. The lead changed hands nine times, with neither side opening up a gap of more than four points. The quarter was most notable for Minnesota’s four turnovers (to zero miscues, at that time, for Atlanta) and for the Lynx’ three swats (to zero, at that time, for Atlanta), which gave the record crowd of 15,258 white pom-pom waving Minnesotans plenty to cheer about. (Though Target Center boasts a stated capacity of 20,500 for basketball, the attendance—announced as a “sellout”—was among the highest in franchise history, second only to Linday Whalen’s Minnesota homecoming, then in a Connecticut Sun uniform, on July 14, 2004. Only a handful of sections, high in the nosebleeds, were vacant, while the enthusiastic crowd overflowed the lower bowls and filled most of the rafters and even the sky-box suites.)

However, in the final minute of the first quarter, Lindsay Harding—who knocked down eight of her first nine shots, then connected on only one of her next 10—ignited a 13-3 run that spanned the first four minutes of the second period. For a span of more than five-and-a-half minutes, the only Minnesota player to connect from the field was reliever Jessica Adair. Adair, who was brought to Minnesota thanks to a phone call from her George Washington University coach Joe McKeown (now at Northwestern) for whom Reeve once served as an assistant, came off the bench in Game One to finish with six points and five boards.

Photo Caption: With Angel McCoughtry off to a slow start, Lindsay Harding was instrumental in getting Atlanta out to a 12-point lead in the second period. Harding put up 16 points in the first half, but after the break, the Lynx seemed to have found a solution, holding her to just four more points the rest of the way.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee MIchaelson©

That’s not to say that Adair’s teammates weren’t hoisting them up there. Minnesota kept heaving up miss upon miss. In part, the Lynx seemed to struggle with the Dream’s hedging and trapping defense, but not all of Minnesota’s woes can be attributed to the Atlanta defense. During the Dream run, the Lynx, who are usually a smart team, seemed to rush their shots, some of which were just plain dumb. Candice Wiggins took a three that was little more than a fling from way out. Whalen forced a shot and Monica Wright drove right into Atlanta’s much taller Allison Bales and then tried to shoot over her. 

In addition to the bad shots, the Lynx missed some open ones that they usually make. Their passes were a little lazy, and on the whole, they looked a tick off.

Indeed, though the deficit quickly grew to double digits (29-17, Atlanta, before Moore finally stopped the bleeding at the six-minute mark with two from the charity stripe), the carnage could have been far worse. But for the Lynx defense during that span, Atlanta could have easily have had a 20-point lead instead of 12. True, the Dream managed to pull off on a couple of fast breaks, but, for the most part, the Lynx forced Atlanta to play in the half court and most of the shots they took were the shots Minnesota was willing to give up.

Whalen later explained that part of the problem during that stretch was that she and her teammates were over-thinking things:

“I think were just kind of stuck in that first couple of quarters, just trying to figure out what play we’re in, this and that.”

Whalen added that despite a scoreboard that suggested the Lynx’ title hopes could be headed for a train wreck, she and her teammates maintained an optimistic outlook through the Atlanta run:

“I think early in the second quarter, I think we were down 12 ..., something like that, we had taken a timeout. And we all just said, ‘It’s a long game. Long timeouts, long game.’ We knew that we could make a run. We knew that we would make a run back at them. They would probably make another run.

“And no time to panic or get frustrated. They were making shots. We were kind of still; we didn’t shoot the ball very well in the first half. And defensively, ... we weren’t quite close enough to shooters as we needed to be.

“And we just kept saying, ‘It’s a long game,’ and, yeah, we knew from that San Antonio game [Game One of the Western Conference semifinals]—just hang in there, and we knew our run would come at some point.”

In fact, there would be more than one Minnesota run, the first of which (13-4) began with Moore’s pair at the line and was fueled largely by Whalen and Augustus, who combined to close the gap to just three (30-33) in a little more than three minutes. Brunson, with some key rebounds, well-timed screens, and two from the stripe, and McWilliams-Franklin, who swatted down Coco-Miller’s 10-footer, did their parts as well.

Once the Dream finally kicked it into gear with two-and-a-half minutes left in the half, they managed to stretch the lead back to as many as seven, but each time Atlanta seemed to be making any ground, Minnesota would answer back, and the two teams headed into the break with just three points still separating them, 36-39, advantage Atlanta.

For the half, neither team shot the ball all that well, with Minnesota netting just 40 percent (14-of-35) of its attempts from the field and the Dream knocking down a marginally better 42.5 percent (17-of-40). Atlanta’s Harding had already notched 16 of what would finish as 20 points; Iziane Castro Marques had 10, albeit on dreadful (five-of-14) shooting. No Lynx player had yet broken the double-digit scoring mark.

Photo Caption: Other than McCoughtry and Harding, the only Atlanta player to breach the double-digit scoring barrier was Iziane Castro Marques. The Dream’s hero of the Eastern Conference Finals would finish with just 10 points on a woeful five-of-15 from the field as the Lynx shut her down entirely in the second half.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©

The Lynx held the edge on the boards (21-16) and in the paint (24-18), but had come nowhere close to establishing the dominance that would mark the second half.

Minnesota’s adjustment at halftime was obvious: Greater aggression on both ends of the floor. But it would take a while for that strategy to bear fruit.

The Lynx tied things up in the first two minutes of the third quarter, as Brunson dropped in two mid-range jumpers and Moore penetrated the paint to sink a Whalen-esque reverse lay-up. Atlanta quickly answered, as McCoughtry, who had just six first-half points on two-of-five from the field, found her stroke, and four minutes in, the Dream were back on top by seven (42-49).

They would advance no further as the Rebekkah Brunson show began in earnest. Brunson got things started with two from the line, dropped in two in a row from within two feet of the hoop, then grabbed a McCoughtry miss, putting the board in the trusty hands of Whalen who fed it to Augustus for the tying jumper (49-49). From there, the two sides traded blows to end the period at a 62-62 tie.

The most significant change in the third period was that Minnesota’s shooting had improved to 50 percent (11-of-22) from the field, while Atlanta’s had remained roughly stagnant at 42.1 percent (eight-of-19) for the quarter. The other major factor: Minnesota was going hard to the boards, out-rebounding Atlanta 12-5 in the third period.

Meanwhile, it was McCoughtry who was almost single-handedly keeping Atlanta in the game, notching a WNBA Finals-record 19 points in the third quarter alone. The previous record for points in a quarter was 14, set by the Phoenix Mercury’s Diana Taurasi against Detroit in 2007.

To this point in the game, Minnesota had never led by more than three points. That was about to change.

Minnesota opened the final period on a 13-0 run from which Atlanta was never able to recover. This time it was Whalen doing most of the work on the offensive end of the floor, getting things rolling a driving lay-up, and after being fouled in the process, knocked down the free throw for a conventional three-point play. Next, Whalen swatted down a Harding jumper—yes, that’s right! On this night, even the Lynx point guard recorded a block in this game—and followed that up with a mid-range jumper, for five points in under a minute.

The Atlanta bench had to have breathed a sigh of relief when, in the middle of this run, Reeve subbed out Whalen, replacing her with Wiggins, but if so, the celebration was premature. Augustus soon picked up where Whalen left off, pulling up for a 10-foot jumper; Brunson netted a fade-away on an assist from Moore, then drove the lane for a lay-up off an Augustus feed; and Moore picked McCoughtry’s pocket, firing it down court to McWilliams-Franklin, who laid it in at the other end.

The damage: Minnesota 75, Atlanta 62.

Photo Caption: Minnesota’s Seimone Augustus goes airborne for two of her 22 points in Game One of the WNBA Finals Sunday. When Atlanta would attempt to double on Augustus, she had an uncanny knack for finding the open player, passing out for a game-high seven assists.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee MIchaelson©

Throughout the Lynx run, Minnesota played to its strengths, taking advantage of its multiple offensive weapons. With Atlanta attempting to double on Augustus, the Lynx kept pounding—or driving—the ball inside. Perhaps Atlanta would have been better in the post if they had de Souza in the post, but without her, they just couldn’t defend near the basket.

But more than that, the Lynx just ran their offense beautifully during that time.  They set screen after screen, and often found themselves so open for easy shots after cutting off those screens.

Moreover, by this point in the contest, Minnesota’s passing game was firing on all cylinders.

“We knew that [the Atlanta] defense isn’t as disciplined as most other defenses,” said Augustus, who was otherwise extremely complimentary about her opponents. “They’re going to gamble a lot. What you think may be open is not going to be open. Making the extra pass is key because that’s where you’re going to get the open shots. That’s where you’re going to create closeouts for them that we possibly want to attack, try to get to the basket or have an open way for it to get to our posts. Rebekkah Brunson did an amazing job of getting open and we fed her the ball to get her 26 points.

“If she didn’t get the ball, she was in amazing position to get offensive rebounds. To have that extra pass or teamwork created a lot of different situations for us to score or get easy offensive rebounds.”

By this point, Minnesota had adjusted to the Dream’s defensive hedges and traps and adopted an attack mentality.

“I think we just tried to more or less just attack,” explained Whalen. “Not really worry about what they were in ...—just if you had an angle, try to get to the basket. ... Seimone was doing that, I was doing that. ... [T]hey [Atlanta] were doing a great job on pick and roll at the start and we just make an adjustment and go play. ... Once we started playing and going to our strengths, things really opened up for us.”

Meanwhile, at the other end of the floor, in the words of Augustus, “In the fourth quarter [when] we started to make our turn, we started playing Lynx defense, and creating some havoc and getting turnovers and converting them over into easy baskets.”

Indeed, according to Reeve, her team was even more focused on defense than she was:

“I think the key for us, every huddle, our group is talking about defense. I’m talking about offense, they’re talking about defense. I’m trying to get the next play in. They’re still talking about defense.

“I think that’s always going to be a separator for us,” Reeve continued. Though she added that her team still needs to do a better job on transition D, on balance, she stated, “I thought we got some key stops. Got some rebounds. Got out and ran. Got the crowd into it. Got energized, and away we went.”

It was as close to a game plan as Reeve was willing to disclose.

Meadors’ assessment of the critical stretch was similar:

“They played good defense against us. There’s no question about it. They were very aggressive. They were very physical.

“And we didn’t hit our shots,” Meadors continued. “Normally we hit our shots. But I just thought that we could have done a better job as far as running our offenses and taking a little more time off the clock. A lot of times we went with quick shots and missed them and they rebounded. They went and scored. And I think that was a huge part of the game where we lost the lead.”

Some might say that a quick trigger, combined with a heavy reliance on offensive rebounding to clean up any misses, is the normal style of Atlanta play. But that’s when the Dream have both their starting bigs on hand to hit the boards and put back the strays. With de Souza MIA, things called for a different strategy.

Meadors called a quick timeout as the game threatened to get out of hand. The little-used Courtney Paris came in for Bales and Castro Marques subbed in for Lyttle, and out of the huddle, the Brazilian fed Paris for a lay-up that snapped the Lynx run.

But from there, though the Dream (primarily in the person of McCoughtry) would make minor incursions into the Minnesota lead, they could gain no real traction.

By the final minute of regulation, when Brunson knocked down a short jumper, the Dream were still down 13. With Atlanta forced to foul (more for form than anything else), Moore tacked on the last two points at the line to set the final score at 88-74, Minnesota, and give the home team a 1-0 advantage in this best-of-five series.

Both teams will take Monday off from practice. The Lynx and WNBA President Laurel Richie will host a “Dribble Against Diabetes” fitness clinic at Target Center for 75 boys and girls from a local middle school at noon, after which both teams will take questions from the press.

Then it’s back to the drawing board for both teams, as the Lynx figure out what they will do once de Souza reenters the Atlanta line-up and the Dream consider how to cope with Minnesota’s multi-faceted offensive arsenal.

Neither task will be easy, though many analysts considered the Lynx to hold the upper hand even before they tucked Game One under their belts. (“The Lynx in four games,” seemed to be the consensus refrain throughout the press room before tip-off.)

Still, as the Dream have shown this season—vaulting into playoff position, and ultimately the Eastern Conference Championship, after a lousy start that saw them enter July in last place in the East—one counts Atlanta out at one’s own peril. Whether it’s coming from behind to win a game, as Atlanta did in their conference semifinals against Connecticut, or crawling out of a hole in a series, as they did in the conference championships against top-seeded Indiana, this is a resilient team who seem to relish the role of the underdog.

As McCoughtry put it, “This ain’t football. We’re going to come back. We got another game. We don’t have to wait a week. We’re going to adjust; we’re going to watch film; we’re going to get better.

“We don’t have to be down right now. It’s just one game. If you watched the NBA Finals, this happens all the time and teams come back. It’s a long series. We’re not going to get down over one loss, but we’re going to build ourselves up.

“It’s over with now. It’s erased out of our minds. We’re moving on.”

Game Two of the best-of-five series tips off Wednesday, October 5, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 p.m. local, in the Target Center in Minneapolis. The game will be aired on ESPN2.

Photo Caption: Pleased as punch? Glen Taylor celebrates with staff and family members as the Lynx draw one step closer to an outcome he has been awaiting for the 13 years since he became the operating owner of the franchise in 1999, its inaugural year: A WNBA Championship. The Lynx have never made it past the opening round before this season. Taylor is also the owner of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves.
Photo Credit: Full Court Press/Lee Michaelson©


Originally published Sun, October 02, 2011

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Dropped Out: No. 24 North Carolina, No. 25 Kansas.
First-place votes: Total first-place votes received (if any) are indicated in parentheses following school name.
Others receiving votes: St. Bonaventure (22-2) 34; North Carolina (17-6) 19; California (17-6) 18; Florida Gulf Coast (21-2) 16; Middle Tennessee (19-5) 15; Texas-El Paso (20-2) 8; Texas Tech (16-6) 5; Brigham Young (21-4) 4; Fresno State (19-4) 4; St. John's (15-8) 4; Princeton (15-4) 3; Oklahoma (15-7) 2; West Virginia (17-6) 2; Kansas State (15-7) 1.
Rank remains unchanged since last week
Ranking has risen since last week.
Ranking has dropped since last week.
Credit: Courtesy Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). The weekly Division I Top 25 Coaches' Poll, sponsored by USA Today and ESPN, is based on voting by a Board of Coaches made up of 31 head coaches at Division I institutions all of whom are WBCA members.