(Duluth, GA) – Exiles from home and playing at the Arena at Gwinnett Center, the Atlanta Dream had eaten two full meals of frustration served by the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA Finals. Southern hospitality required that Atlanta return the favor when the Lynx came to visit. Unfortunately, the Lynx only took a few bites and declined the rest, fighting through any scares served by the Dream to take Game Three of the WNBA Finals 86-77 to win their second WNBA title by sweeping the Dream for the second time in three years.
Not everyone thought the Lynx would be back.
"We need to give Rebecca Lobo a share of this trophy," Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said. "It was a great motivation for us that she thought we were the third best team in the West, not just the league. It was a real good for us, it was really humbling. We played with a chip on our shoulder much of the season."
Atlanta head coach Fred Williams congratulated his team for their effort not just for Game Three, but for the entire year.
"For our ladies to be hobbled and crippled and beat down a little bit and get back up and bounce back up, and to try to compete for another game, I thought they all tried to make that happen," Williams said.
Out of Minnesota’s bevy of scorers, it was Lynx center Janel McCarville who started the march to the championship with six points in a run that put her team up 13-3. Dream forward Angel McCoughtry turned the ball over three times early in the game and soon found herself bench-bound. The Lynx were hot from mid-range, and it wasn’t until the Dream could find center Erika de Souza that they turned things around. Six quick points by de Souza helped Atlanta close to within four, 17-13.
The last minute of the quarter was an exchange of three pointers – Dream forward Maya Moore, Dream point guard Alex Bentley, and then Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen hitting three free throws after Bentley fouled her behind the line with 0.4 seconds left. Atlanta trailed 25-17, but looked like a much improved team.
In the second quarter, the Dream continued to be effective from long range. Bentley added another three. McCoughtry came in and her first call was to look for her teammates. A three-pointer by Dream guard Tiffany Hayes closed the gap to three points, 30-27 with 6:42 left in the first half.
McCoughtry’s first points – a three pointer from the left of the court – tied the game at 32-32. Minnesota pulled away again on an eight point run, but Atlanta answered back with five of their own to end the half down by three, 40-37.
Alex Bentley led the half with nine points and de Souza had eight points and four rebounds. Minnesota’s points came from their starters, with three players in double figures. Lindsay Whalen led the Lynx with 11 points on 5-for-6 free throw shooting.
So could the Dream close those last three points in the second half?
De Souza picked up her second and third fouls and a free throw by Minnesota forward Rebekkah Brunson put the Lynx back up 51-42 with 6:40 to go in the third. With 5:07 to go, de Souza picked up foul #4 and was replaced by forward Aneika Henry and with 4:14 to go, Atlanta put the Lynx in the bonus. Maya Moore hit two free throws to put Minnesota back into a double-digit lead. The Lynx soon had a nine-point run, and Atlanta was down by sixteen points. Atlanta, however, was not out of life – a run sparked by ten points from Tiffany Hayes in the last 3:20 of the third saved the Dream from certain death and brought back to 65-56 to end the third quarter.
"We talked about shooting too many threes," Williams said, referring to the poor outside shooting that has plagued Atlanta all year, "but tonight she stepped it up and hit a lot of outside jumpers for us. She’s that young lady that I can count on, start or no start, to just come out and play hard."
Did the Dream have one last run? Erika de Souza picked up her fifth foul with 7:23 to go and Williams made the decision to keep her in. The clock ticked down on Atlanta’s season as Alex Bentley and Tiffany Hayes tried to keep the Dream alive, but the Lynx always had an answer. The Dream would finish the game within nine points of the Lynx, but they needed more.
It would be Janel McCarville’s first championship. She made a nice pass after a steal to Rebekkah Brunson in the third quarter that will probably make a highlight film.
"To go between your legs to another post player?" Lindsay Whalen asked. "That’s J-Mac. That’s what she brings to the team. I really thought she set the tone for us tonight to start.
"It was fun to see her make plays like that because that’s how she’s always played."
Tiffany Hayes led all Atlanta scorers with 20 points, on 4-for-6 free throw shooting. Angel McCoughtry had 13 points and Erika de Souza had 12 points and nine rebounds.
The Lynx only played seven players, and five of them – the starters – all finished with double-digits. Maya Moore scored 23 points to lead all scorers and was named the Finals MVP. Rebekkah Brunson had 15 points and 12 rebounds and Lindsay Whalen had 15 points and six assists. Minnesota scored 23 of their 86 points at the foul line where they shot 83.9 percent.
Will Atlanta try to come up with a different chemistry next year? Will there be changes?
"We just keep knocking on the door," Williams said. "Every year, no one had us pegged to even be in the playoffs. I’ve always mentioned to the team that you’ve got to be blessed with the days that you have to compete for a championship."
For more on the series, check out our 2013 WNBA Finals storystream.