Dream falls short 88-74 in first game of finals

MINNEAPOLIS – The Atlanta Dream will again have to get out of an early hole.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Dream lost Game 1 to Indiana before rallying to win the series. In Sunday’s Game 1 of the WNBA Finals, the Dream did it again, this time losing 88-74 to Minnesota.

The Dream, which led by double-digits in the first half, struggled on the both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter. Offensively, Atlanta went more than five minutes without a field goal and was sloppy with the ball. Defensively, the Dream was unable to slow a balanced Lynx offense.

“We couldn’t find the rim for about four minutes,” Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors said. “And everything we did resulted in points for Minnesota.”

As a result, the Dream – which was swept by Seattle in last year’s Finals – has now lost four consecutive WNBA Finals games heading into Wednesday’s Game 2. The Dream will host Game 3 on Friday night and Game 4 (if necessary) on Sunday afternoon.

Angel McCoughtry led the Dream with 33, including 23 after halftime, while Lindsey Harding added 20.

Iziane Castro Marques, who averaged 26.5 points per game in two Eastern Conference Finals victories over Indiana, was shut down by the Lynx. She scored six points in the first quarter, but added only four the rest of the way to finish with 10.

While the Dream is now down 1-0 in the series, McCoughtry said it is way too early to panic.

“Have you ever heard the expression, ‘This ain’t football’?” she said. “We’re going to come back. We’ve 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.”

For much of the first two-and-a-half quarters, Atlanta was in control of the game. The Dream actually led by seven, 49-42, with 6:23 to play in the third. But Minnesota tied the game at the end of the third quarter and broke it open early in the fourth.

Behind Lindsay Whalen (15 points), Seimone Augustus (22 points) and Rebekkah Brunson (26 points, 11 rebounds), the Lynx scored the first 13 points of the fourth quarter, most of which came on layups.

Over the final 11:39 of the game, the Dream turned the ball over eight times. Those eight mistakes directly led to 14 Minnesota points. Throw in the Lynx outrebounding the Dream and outscoring Atlanta by 22 points in the paint and the outcome isn’t a surprise.

“I personally didn’t think we played a very good game tonight,” Meadors said. “I thought we got ahead and we maintained that lead for a long time. But when we failed to go to the boards, I thought that was the difference in the momentum.”

By the time Courtney Paris scored Atlanta’s first points of the fourth quarter with 5:27 to play, the Dream still trailed 75-64. Throw in the Dream’s drought at the end of the third quarter and Atlanta went 5:34 without a field goal.

The Dream closed within nine, 77-68, when Harding scored with 4:38 to play, but Minnesota quickly scored the next four points. From there, Atlanta never really threatened.

Collins Hill grad Maya Moore, who was held to 11 points, said the a Lynx team that hadn’t played in a week looked rusty, but was pleased to see things turn around.

“This first game was huge,” Moore said. “It’s always huge for whoever gets the first game and that first punch. We want to win our home games. The whole season, that’s what our focus has been.”

While the Lynx surged during the final 15 minutes, the Dream would have been in trouble a lot earlier if not for McCoughtry.

McCoughtry kept the Dream in the game in the third quarter. While the rest of the Atlanta roster combined for four points, McCoughtry went 7-for-11 from the floor and scored 19 points in the quarter.

McCoughtry, who scored the Dream’s first 10 points of the second half scored both going to the basket and from the perimeter. She also answered after the Lynx took a 53-51 lead by buring a three-pointer.

She also scored Atlanta’s final four points of the third quarterand was much of the reason why the game was tied at 62 entering the fourth quarter.

Over the final 20 minutes, McCoughtry outscored her teammates 27-8, going 8-for-15 from the floor and 9-for-10 from the line. The other Atlanta players were a combined 3-for-20 from the floor.

McCoughtry’s 19 points in the third quarter set a WNBA Finals record for points in a quarter. Her 33-point total was the second-highest output in WNBA Finals history.

“We just had a little stretch where we just kind of fumbled the ball a lot and we gave them some easy points back to back to back,” McCoughtry said. “But I think if we can play for 40 minutes and be immensely tough for 40 minutes next game, then we’re going to be in a great position because I feel good about where we’re at still now.”