(ATLANTA) – While Erika de Souza was off to pursue her dream - a shot at qualifying Brazil for the 2012 Olympics in the FIBA Americas Tournament - it looked like it would be reached at the cost of Atlanta's dream of a repeat visit to the WNBA Finals. However, Iziane Castro Marques had a dream performance of her own.
Iziane would score 30 against the Fever and Indiana would lose in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals in Atlanta 94-77.
Indiana's loss forces the Fever back to its home court for Game Three on Tuesday. The winner of Tuesday's game will be the Eastern Conference champions.
"I couldn't ask for anybody to step in and play any better than what Izi Castro Marques did today," Atlanta head coach Marynell Meadors said. "It was an awesome performance. I think she was the X factor for us that kept us going. She kept hitting shot after shot after shot. Tough shots. And they went in."
Almost everyone thought that Alison Bales would be replacing missing center Erika de Souza, but the Dream decided to go small and fast with a lineup of point guard Lindsey Harding, center Sancho Lyttle, forward Angel McCoughtry and guards Armintie Price and Castro Marques. Iziane had only started 14 games this year.
"We had such great success last year with the small lineup," Meadors said. "Every coach that came in, I made them say something like who would they start and we all came up with the smaller lineup, and then inserted Izi right into the lineup. We were very positive about doing that since we've had great success with a small lineup. "
"I anticipated they would probably go small and quicker," Indiana head coach Lin Dunn said. "They didn’t make the decision until right before game time. But we knew that there was two options. They could go big with Bales or they could go small, and they used both lineups throughout the game."
The Dream jumped out to a 6-0 lead and forced the Fever to play Atlanta’s game, a fast transition game marked by the Dream driving through Fever traffic like a race car at LeMans. The Fever had their own foot on the gas and at one point the Dream were shooting 81 percent from the floor…but the Fever were shooting 70 percent. A 10-0 run near the end of the first quarter gave Atlanta a 34-25 lead after the first period with 13 points from McCoughtry.
"I thought the big difference was that Angel was just really focused and she didn't lose her poise and composure," Dunn said. "She did a really good job setting the tone early. She was very aggressive offensively, and I thought she got them on a good roll early."
But it wasn’t just a matter of small lineup. Atlanta played tough defense. They paid the price for it early in the second – Lyttle picked up her third foul in the second quarter and became a non-factor for the rest of the half – but the Dream kept the pressure on Indiana and was winning the battle of the boards even with the smaller lineup.
Fever guard-forward Katie Douglas would occasionally reduce the gap with a 3-pointer but Atlanta remained dominant throughout the second as the Fever could not solve the problem of Atlanta’s perimeter defense. The Fever went on a mini-run during the last two minutes, taking advantage of poor shot selection by Atlanta and the presence of post Courtney Paris on the floor as a Douglas 3-pointer closed the gap to 53-51, but a follow-up jumper by Harding took the Dream to the halftime break with a 55-51 lead.
Douglas was 4-for-4 from behind the 3-point line in the first half. McCoughtry had 20 first half points and Castro Marques contributed 13 first-half points for Atlanta, but Indiana had to be particularly troubled by 12 first-half turnovers.
"You have to take care of the basketball," Dunn said. "That's their greatest strength: their length, their strength and their quickness."
Indiana got to within two points, 57-55 to start the third quarter, but Atlanta answered with seven straight points capped by a fast break by Armintie Price to take a 64-55 lead before the Fever were forced to call a timeout. The Dream added two more points from Castro Marques to put the lead in double-digits and the Dream maintained the intensity of its half-court defense. Castro Marques added 13 more points in the third quarter to score her 26th point of the game and to break her own playoff scoring record as the Dream would lead 73-65 at the end of thirty minutes. Indiana forward Tamika Catchings – the WNBA’s MVP – went 0-for-7 in the third quarter.
It clearly wasn’t Indiana’s evening, not with the Dream shooting close to 55 percent for the game. Atlanta extended its lead through the fourth and only a Tangela Smith 3-pointer at the end kept the Fever from losing by twenty points.
Indiana's nightmare in Atlanta was punctuated with an injury to Catchings in the fourth quarter with 4:54 left. Lin Dunn stated that the injury was not Achilles related, but Catchings was carried off court with a towel over her face. Indiana faced the ugly possibility that the WNBA MVP might not be present for Game Three.
"I don’t want to think about that until the final decision is made," Douglas said. "I know Catch. I know if she has to crawl she's going to crawl for this team. I don’t want to really speculate and get into how we are going to play without her until I think we have a firm diagnosis as far as what the injury she suffered was."
Castro Marques's 30 points were a season high and a career playoff high. McCoughtry finished with 27 points and all of Atlanta's starters finished in double-figures.
Clearly, Castro Marques was the difference in Atlanta's victory.
"Maybe she should have gone with the Brazilian national team too," Douglas said. "She had a tremendous game. I mean, she’s an All-Star. She’s been coming off the bench for them all year. I knew how dangerous and how potent they could be inserting her into the lineup and she just did a tremendous job. She’s probably their second quickest player on the team, so she’s extremely explosive as well. But I think that we didn't do a good job as far as scouting and tendencies and I know we can do a better job on Tuesday. "
"Castro just really hurt us," Dunn said. "She just really hurt us with her shooting."
Douglas led Indiana scorers with 25 points. Fever center Jessica Davenport scored 12 points off the bench and center Tammy Sutton-Brown finished with 11 points. Catchings was held to eight points but added nine rebounds to the box score.
* Atlanta led throughout the game. The game was never tied.
* The Fever have not won at Atlanta since Atlanta's inaugural 2008 season, where they beat the Dream 81-77 on September 8, 2008.
* Atlanta's 34 first-quarter points are the second most playoff points in a first quarter. The record was set by the 35 points that Phoenix scored against San Antonio in Game Two of the 2009 Western Conference Semi-Finals.
* The 57 points from McCoughtry and Castro Marques is tied for second all time for a duo in a playoff. The best performance by a duo in the playoffs is 59 points by Phoenix's Penny Taylor (32) and Cappie Pondexter (27) against Detroit in the 2007 WNBA Finals.
* Douglas on her decreased production in the fourth quarter. "I think I was playing a lot of point guard so I was distributing. I'm kind of a combo guard, I can play the one, two, and three for this team. Coach saw something she likes, so…. I can be the go-to scorer, I can be the shooter. In the fourth quarter I was a distributor."
* Armintie Price landed flat on her back against Indiana in Game One and bruised her back. Meadors: "That back is not going to stand in her way. If we get a chance to rest her, we will."
* Meadors on Erika de Souza leaving the Dream to play in the 2011 FIBA Americas Tournament for the duration of the Eastern Conference Finals. "I had been talking with the Brazilian national folks since January. The WNBA has a working agreement with national teams, including the USA team but the USA team works better with us because they know that a lot of the USA team players are on teams that are in the playoffs. I've known that there was a possibility that she would be leaving. We didn't know until a couple of weeks ago for sure exactly what day, and then we were not sure until the other day that she was going to go."
"She was very torn between staying here because she loves this team, and she was torn because she was playing for Brazil."
* Meadors on discussion with Erika de Souza: "There was all kinds of discussion. It was really hard for her to go. We talked about it, we tried to compromise with the Brazilian national group. They just said, you know, they issued a lot of threats that it would cause her not to play in the Olympics should they qualify."
* Did Iziane talk to Erika about staying or going? "I tried to not go in her way. I tried to leave her to her own decision. I made mine and I was leaving her to take hers by herself so I tried not to pull her to either side."
* Was there pressure from the Brazilians on Iziane? There was no clear answer given. "Izi chose to stay," Meadors said. "And you have to remember back at the beginning of the year Sancho Lyttle did the same thing with Spain. National teams are national teams, and we don't touch them because it's just something that we shouldn't do."
* Meadors on Iziane's season: "In defense of her earlier in the year, she's still nursing Achilles tendonitis, and that held her back at the beginning of the year. I think it slowed her down just a little bit. But she looked like the old Izi today, which was awesome."