2013 WNBA Playoffs: How the Atlanta Dream beat the Washington Mystics to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Dream used a 15-2 run in Game 3 of their first round series against the Washington Mystics to return to the Eastern Conference Finals. Although Angel McCoughtry was a big part of their effort, it wasn't her scoring that carried the team.

Last year, James wrote a piece comparing "big games and team wins" in which he looked at how well the Atlanta Dream performed when star scorer Angel McCoughtry was doing the bulk of the team's scoring.

To make a long story short, he concluded that there was actually no relationship between McCoughtry carrying the scoring load and the outcome of Dream games. He theorized at the end that, "There is more than one way to win a basketball game. One can distribute scoring duties among several players rather than have one player bear the burden."

The way the Dream beat the Washington Mystics in the 2013 WNBA Playoffs was a perfect example of how they can win when McCoughtry isn't at her most dominant as a scorer: after scoring a team-high 20 points in the Dream's Game 1 loss, McCoughtry would be no higher than the third-highest scorer in the final two games (20 points in Game 2; 13 in Game 3). The 15-2 run that the Dream used to close out the Mystics in Game 3 epitomized how they're able to get the job done.

Key player: McCoughtry's passing during their 15-2 run

So it's at least interesting to note given James' past analysis that McCoughtry's most significant contribution to Game 3, at least, came in the form of something other than scoring points.

The Dream had 5 assists on 10 made baskets during that 15-2 run - McCoughtry had 4 of them and 0 turnovers.

McCoughtry isn't going to wow anybody with passing efficiency numbers - she had 10 assists and 7 turnovers in Games 2 & 3 - but it sort of reinforces how dangerous both she and the Dream can be even when she's not scoring. Her very presence on the court demands so much attention from opposing defenses that she's able to create scoring opportunities for others simply by continuing to be aggressive.

Yet passing wasn't the only thing that McCoughtry was doing while struggling to put the ball in the basket. In addition to tallying 3 steals per contest in the Dream's wins and generally being disruptive on the defensive end of things, McCoughtry was a major contributor to an absolutely dominant offensive rebounding effort over the last two games of the series.

McCoughttry was also helpful on the boards in Games 2 & 3 along with everyone else.

Key statistic: Dominant Dream offensive rebounding

Shooting woes were something that should've been expected between these two teams. Both came in as inconsistent shooting teams simply because they lacked efficient shot creators.

Things weren't really any different in this series, but instead of finding ways to outshoot the Mystics the Dream doubled down on their most dominant strength over the last four seasons: offensive rebounding.

eFG%

Tov%

Oreb%

FTA/FGA

Was

37.95%

17.94%

20.00%

41.96%

Atl

39.64%

15.47%

47.37%

30.00%

Weighted

eFG%

Tov%

Oreb

FTA/FGA

Was

-0.17

-0.21

-1.15

0.25

Four Factors statistics for Atlanta and Washington in Games 2 & 3.

It's not always true that a team can overcome a poor shooting effort with strong offensive rebounding (just ask the Los Angeles Sparks). But the Dream's ability to impose their will on the offensive boards allowed them to stay right with the Mystics until they found their rhythm with that 15-2 run.

And it didn't stop during the run.

MVP: Erika de Souza's post presence

That 15-2 run was about as dominant as Dream basketball gets.

The shot 7-for-10 while the Mystics went 0-for-5 on a series of jumpers. They didn't commit a turnover. And they turned three offensive rebounds into four second chance points.

All three of those offensive rebounds were recovered by Erika de Souza, who finished with a game-high 7 offensive rebounds (23.52% offensive rebounding percentage). And not only did de Souza "take up space" as she often does, but she was extremely active in hauling in a game-high 14 rebounds and running the floor to follow shots in transition.

Of course the rebounding was a group effort throughout the series: both Aneika Henry and Armintie Herrington deserve ample credit for their efforts along with what de Souza and McCoughtry contributed. The key to the Dream's success though, even when they weren't running the Mystics off the court, was that de Souza's presence in the post allowed them to completely dominate the paint. The Dream's dominant offensive rebounding only translated into a three point advantage in second chance points, they still established a 38-24 advantage in points in the paint.

With the Dream winning the battle of the paint by such a wide margin, it's no surprise that the Mystics were almost entirely perimeter-oriented by the time the fourth quarter rolled around. Unfortunately, the Mystics' perimeter players just didn't have enough to carry the team in this series.

Mystics MVP: Ivory Latta's leadership not enough

Ivory Latta had more assists in the Mystics' Game 1 win (7) than she did in the following two games (2). Although it might not be the most significant statistic for the series, it does reflect what happened to the Mystics after their impressive Game 1 win: they simply weren't able to move the ball efficiently. And, in this case, efficiency doesn't always mean not turning it over - it means getting themselves high percentage shots.

Part of that was certainly Crystal Langhorne's struggles over the last two games, in which she shot just 2-for-11 and had as many turnovers as made shots - they just struggled to even get her shots on the post and when she did get the ball the Dream sent double teams. Matee Ajavon was active on defense, but shot just 4-for-17 for the series. Monique Currie was hot for the beginning of Game 3, but her accuracy from the long two pointer range where she was settling in disappeared during that decisive Dream run in the fourth quarter. Kia Vaughn was more of a bright spot than some, but de Souza out-produced her in the post in Game 3.

For the Mystics, dropping the series reflects two defining themes of their season: inconsistency and lacking in a dominant strength they could rely on when they're struggling. All season they've been good enough to compete and even finish third in the conference, but clearly well short of being a team ready to compete for a title. In contrast, when the Dream were backed against a wall, they were able to rely on their rebounding strength not only to stay afloat but to completely overwhelm the Mystics.

Of course, this was a huge step forward for the Mystics - to finish third in the conference after winning 11 games the past two years was a testament to Latta's value at point guard and coach Mike Thibault's value as Coach of the Year. But their task this offseason is clear if they want to take another step forward: they need to find that strength, that core of their identity, that they can always fall back on no matter what. Acquiring a top-tier star would certainly help, but the Dream are example of how having a star and a "supporting cast" that can collectively complement the star in imposing their will on a game can be a winning formula in the postseason.

For more on the series, check out our Dream-Mystics series storystream.

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