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Atlanta's Angel Guides Dream to Victory

Just the Facts, Ma'am: The Atlanta Dream used 21 points from Angel McCoughtry, a double-double from Érika de Souza, and a 10-0 third quarter run to beat the New York Liberty 86-77 at Madison Square Garden, despite 21 points from Cappie Pondexter and 16 points and nine rebounds from Janel McCarville.

official boxscore and AP recap

For venting, ranting, antisocial behavior, player analysis, and some frustration, follow your intrepid blogger after the jump.

It's never a good sign when at any point of the game, you're beginning to wonder if the competition between the teams is to see who can make the stupidest play, the most boneheaded mistake, the slipperiest fumble. That's really not a good sign. But then, I'm starting to wonder just how committed the Liberty are to this season. I know it's early, and maybe they react to the start of the season the way I react to mornings, and maybe I'm being paranoid and I'll laugh it off at the end of the season.

But it's a bad sign when you get to the arena two hours before tip-off and you're in ahead of most of the starting lineup. We arrived a few minutes before Nikki Blue and Leilani Mitchell (who wears the cutest frocks; it's hard to believe I'm even dragging the word frock out of retirement), and Kia Vaughn, Cappie Pondexter, and Janel McCarville followed along behind. That's the second game in a row that they've done that, and I'm wondering if the team/league rule about players being in two hours before tip-off has been relaxed or something.

And once again, the signal from upstairs that it was time to open the gates came late. I can understand that the clock upstairs is not necessarily synchronized to the individual timekeeping devices of the fans, and I can respect that. But it should be synchronized to the giant clock that's hanging from the center of the box office ceiling and that everyone looks at for confirmation that we've slipped under an hour to tip-off. I mean, unless you really like irritating the hardcore fans that have already been standing there for an hour. Maybe they do. Maybe that's all part of the master plan.

The trend of failure continued inside. Ignoring your team's fans is one thing. Whoever suggested that Liberty staff line the tunnel to make sure that no one can "bother" them for autographs as they're leaving should be reprimanded most sternly. It might not have been so bad if the Dream weren't going out of their way to be accessible and friendly- every Atlanta player stopped and signed. Please note: it does not, under any circumstances, look good for the home team to be less friendly and less approachable than the road team. It leaves a bad impression when your own players run by you without acknowledging you, while the opposing center makes sure that everyone leaves with an autograph.

Just when we thought things couldn't get any worse, they brought out a children's choir to do a twee version of "God Bless America", complete with an introductory verse. Then the kids proceeded to butcher the national anthem. And then the Powers That Be managed to screw up the ball ceremony. The ball ceremony, for the sake of the sweet hypothetical baby Jesus. They forgot to announce who was receiving the balls, then the players messed up the timing, and I think a couple of them even tried to duck out of the handshake line.

So, as you can imagine, this was not a great backdrop against which a fan would watch a critical early-season game. And in that regard, the game fit the rest of the day. No matter how far ahead the Liberty got, it was easy to remember that Atlanta had missed a lot of easy shots and would otherwise have been in the lead; when Atlanta's shots started falling, there was no real answer from New York.

I'm assuming Coco Miller is Kelly Miller's emergency battery pack or something. You know, in case it goes to quadruple overtime or something like that. There's really no reason to play one over the other, since they're disturbingly alike. In any case, I thought that Miller was one of the few players for either team who didn't go out of her way to make stupid mistakes. I wish I could say the same for Alison Bales. Her height came in handy for rebounds and ill-considered drives down the lane by the Liberty, but her hands are awful. She dropped a lot of balls, whether they were on passes, rebounds, or shots, and she had some scary fumbles. Armintie Price was also prone to stupid mistakes, but she showed some very good flashes defensively of being the player who earned the Rookie of the Year award back in 2007. If she can find the nerve she lost after Chasity Melvin's little mishap with someone else's finger, Price is a real steal for Atlanta- she and McCoughtry really work well together.

Though the first thing either of us said when Yelena Leuchanka checked in was "It's Let's Play Basketball Barbie!", and she did have a shameful blonde moment or two on her free throws, she's really not that bad. Once she settles into the system, knows where she needs to be, and knows where everyone else is, she'll be a help to them. Brittainey Raven helped on a couple of defensive possessions, and had one pretty three at a critical moment, so I guess I can see why she stuck on the roster, especially as streaky as McCoughtry and Castro Marques can be.

Shalee Lehning started off really shakily, but sort of found her footing. Not a great game for her- she was as plagued with the fumbles as most of her teammates- but she did enough to help her team win. Érika de Souza had early foul trouble and is obviously not at 100%- she's moving more slowly and isn't able to go as high as her teammates are expecting her to (at least three passes were too tall for her). And at that, she still had a double-double and made the Liberty posts' lives miserable on the inside. That woman is incredible. Sancho Lyttle was really hit with foul trouble- seemed like every time she got into the game, she got a quick foul that limited her effectiveness. She did just enough for Atlanta. Same for Iziane Castro Marques- she wasn't very effective until late in the game, when her shot started falling. Has her shot changed since she's come into the league? Her form is starting to remind me of Stacy Frese, with a lean to it like she's heaving a desperation shot. Not very pretty, but when Atlanta needed big shots, she put them up and in. Angel McCoughtry played really well- not necessarily as intelligently as she could have (protip: sliding into a player in an attempt to get a charge called on them is not a effective way to draw the offensive foul, especially when the blocking foul becomes your fourth)- but she got into the lane with acrobatic moves that were ooh- and ahhh-worthy. Her defense was pretty solid, too.

Has anyone seen Essence Carson's brain? Or at least her balhandling ability? She was gods-awful today. Price picked her pocket twice in rapid succession. I don't know what was up with her today, but this might have been the worst game I've ever seen her play in a Liberty uniform. I would have liked to see more of Kalana Greene; despite the double-dribble during her shift, I thought she was more effective than Essence was. Tiffany Jackson is starting to run out of strikes. No rebounds in almost fourteen minutes is unacceptable for a post. She's not holding on to the ball- or if she is, she's holding on to it too long and traveling as a result. She's not taking good shots. Other than looking stylish, I don't know what she's doing. Kia Vaughn looks like she's at least trying at times. At least she's trying to play de Souza, even if the talent disparity was obvious. But, again, if you're a center, and you put up double-digit minutes, not grabbing a single rebound is unacceptable.

I have come to the conclusion that Taj McWilliams-Franklin is on some very interesting substances. She had yet another new hairdo today, one that put me in mind of either Sheri Sam's dreadlocks or a box of tri-color rotini. I would have forgiven her the hair if she had actually been able to produce more than nine points and three rebounds. Thank all the gods for Janel McCarville, whose stiff neck appears to be much better. Her old aggressiveness was back, with the added element of a midrange jumper that fell with some consistency. If she's going to play the four, that's a really good thing to mix in. She was hitting the boards and using her body. Nicole Powell's shots also started to fall. She was hitting some very deep threes and starting to show the lightning-quick release that fascinated so many people. Unfortunately, she caught the dumb mistakes flu that was going around, so very uncharacteristic of a Stanford alumna. Leilani Mitchell outrebounded our entire bench, but that's more a failing of the bench than a statement in Leilani's favor. She's undersized and overmatched, and somehow she's making it sort of work. She has to hit her shots and get to the line more, but she's doing yeoman's work. As for Cappie Pondexter, here are three shooting lines for you. Early in the game, they showed a graphic where she was 5-8. Later- third quarter, maybe?- the numbers had slipped to 6-14. She finished 8-21 from the field. That tells me that either she started taking bad shots for whatever reason, or the opposing defense figured her out and she was unable to adjust. In my opinion, it was more of the second than the first. She fills a boxscore, I'll say that, but sometimes the numbers obscure the game.

I don't even know what to say about the officiating. It was inconsistent and rather haphazard. If you call a discontinued dribble on one end, call it on the other. Both teams had reason to be angry, so it all evened out in the end.

The attendance was disappointing and the energy was lacking from both the fans and the players. I don't like the 'marking time' feel I'm starting to get from folks. And this road trip worries me. San Antonio with Chamique Holdsclaw is much more dangerous than they were before. Connecticut has come back to life, and if they have Asjha Jones or Sandrine Gruda when we play them, that's not a good match-up. Indiana always makes us struggle. Washington's already beaten us twice this season, and Monique Currie is on fire.