The Dream were paced by Tiffany Hayes’ 20 points. Alex Bentley added 18. Angel McCoughtry, who led the league in scoring during the regular season (21.5 points per game) had another tough game in a tough series, finishing with 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting. She hit just 16 of her 56 field-goal attempts in the series.
“They came out and played very well,” McCoughtry said. “Congratulations to Minnesota on winning their second championship.”
Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said they focused on stopping Atlanta’s dribble penetration, which is something that McCoughtry does very well.
“We were very fortunate that we had the time off before we played these guys because it allowed us to harp on, ‘If you don’t say in front (of them)’,” Reeve said. “Our persistence kind of slowly sucked the life out of Atlanta, especially in those two home games. We did a tremendous job on Angel every time we played her this year.”
Unlike the last two games in the series in which Atlanta lost by 25 points, the Dream stayed competitive on Thursday. They trailed by three after Bentley made a 3-pointer just before halftime.
The Dream were within six, 48-42, in the third quarter before Minnesota center Janel McCarville made the play of the game. She stole the ball at half court and dribbled into the free-throw lane before making a bounce pass back between her legs to Rebekkah Brunson, who made the layup and was fouled by Erika de Souza. Brunson made the free throw to give Minnesota a 51-42 lead with 6:40 left. The Dream weren’t able to get closer than seven points the rest of the game.
“To pull that off in the finals, in game 3, up five or six, to go between your legs to another post player, that’s what she brings to the team,” Minnesota’s Lindsay Whalen said.
That was compounded by de Souza picking up her fourth foul a few minutes later, forcing her to the bench.
Williams then elected to sit McCoughtry for the final 3:20 minutes of the third quarter after she appeared to get frustrated. She sat having scored 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting.
It was the second time in the game that Williams sat his standout player. He benched her for the final five minutes of the first quarter after a rough start in which she shot an airball and committed two turnovers.
“I didn’t really bench her,” Williams said of both occasions. “It was just she wasn’t in rhythm at the time and I felt that I needed to get another player to come in and go with a taller line up and get some more production as far as ball movement.
“I think it’s been a tough series for her. It’s been a tough playoffs. She’s played through a lot of things on the court.”
McCoughtry came back in with 7:52 left, and the Dream twice got to within seven, first on a 3-pointer by Hayes and then on a basket by Bentley with 7:07 left.
With her offense not working, McCoughtry turned to defense. She viciously blocked Monica Wright’s jumper, leading to a layup by Armintie Herrington that cut the Dream’s gap to eight, 78-70, with 3:25 left.
Seimone Augustus made another jumper before Bentley followed with a 3-pointer to make the score 80-73 and keep the Dream’s hope alive with 2:19 left.
Augustus made two free throws with 2:01 left. Bentley drove to the basket, but missed her tough shot. Moore answered with a short jumper to push Minnesota’s lead to 84-73.
McCoughtry drilled a 3-pointer, and Hayes made a free throw to cut the Dream’s margin to seven with 49.5 seconds left.
The Dream wanted to foul, but Bentley let more than 14 seconds run off the clock before she sent Whalen to the line. Whalen made both free throws to kill the slim chances of a Dream comeback.
Williams said he hopes to keep the nucleus of the Atlanta team together for another run next year. The team fought through injuries to several key players, including starting forward Sancho Lyttle, who missed most of the season after suffering a fractured left foot against Minnesota on July 9. The team also sustained injuries to Armintie Herrington (shoulder) and Hayes (variety), among others.
Herrington said the team needs to continue to be disciplined and add some talent to supplement McCoughtry if they hope to break through and win their first title.
“It’s like I told them before, a true champion is someone who comes out and gives it their all,” McCoughtry said. “We might not have it on the stat sheets and on the record books, but I believe we are champions for what we went through. We aren’t supposed to be here right now with our tough season. I’m just proud of everybody, I really am.”