With Maya Moore playing her first professional game ever in her home state, it seemed as if the home Atlanta Dream did everything but roll out a red carpet. The Dream shot 30 percent from the field in a loss to Moore and the visiting Minnesota Lynx by a score of 77-64 that was a lot less close than it appeared. The loss sent Atlanta to a 1-5 record and the Dream are now at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
"We couldn't knock it down," Atlanta head coach Marynell Meadors. "We had open looks, open looks, open looks and we could not get them to fall."
"We just attacked the basketball," Minnesota guard Seimone Augustus said. "Tried to give as much help-side as we could. De Souza's a tough guard for any of our post players, so we wanted to try to crowd the paint."
Augustus was happy with the team effort: "They still were able to get in the paint, but not like in the last game."
"...the first game [against Minnesota] we started off extremely well," Atlanta point guard Lindsey Harding said. "This game was the reverse. They had us on our heels. I think that we did fight really hard. We fought back which says a lot about our characters - that we aren't going to give up. But we can't dig ourselves a 20 point hole and expect to come back on a team that has such good players."
With forward Sancho Lyttle performing in 2011 Eurobasket for the Spanish national team, Atlanta head coach Marynell Meadors started Sandora Irvin in the post. Irvin wasn't a true replacement for a All-Star forward like Sancho Lyttle, but it didn't matter as the Dream were horrible in the first quarter.
Minnesota raced to an early lead with Atlanta beginning the game with 2-for-14 shooting. By the time forward Angel McCoughtry got her first layup with 2:49 left in the first, Minnesota was already up 19-7. Atlanta shot 4-for-20 in the first quarter with Angel McCoughtry, shooting guard Iziane Castro Marques and point guard Lindsey Harding combining for a 2-for-14 effort in the first ten minutes. All of the makings of a Minnesota rout were there as Atlanta only scored four points in the paint in the first quarter as compared to 14 by the Lynx.
The only question for spectators was whether Atlanta could cut the game down to single digits or whether Minnesota could turn the game into a double-decade blowout. Backup point guard Shalee Lehning was just as ineffective as Harding in her limited time in the second quarter, and It was the same old story: Atlanta could find open looks - multiple times - but absolutely could not finish shots. The basketball seemed to be allergic to the basket as far as the Dream were concerned.
The second half was more of the same. With Iziane Castro Marques ill with dizziness and out of the game (see the Notes below), with Harding unable to score (she was 1-for-7) in the first half, and with center Erika de Souza unable to find any help in the paint, the Lynx cut off Angel McCoughtry from any scoring opportunities. Minnesota went on a 15-4 run early in the third, boosting the Lynx to a 58-35 lead.
By this point, Harding was 1-for-9.
"Maybe we could do a better job when Lindsey has the ball, or maybe making harder cuts," Meadors said. "Faking and getting open a little bit more for her. A lot of times she had to put the ball on the floor tonight to try to get a shot off, and that means that wings and posts are standing."
"We were trying to do a better job than we did on Friday," Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve said. "We weren't happy with the points in the paint on Friday, and a lot of that came from our containment of their guards. So I felt we were in much better position at guarding their penetration - very rarely did they turn the corner on us. So I thought our one-on-one D on McCoughtry was pretty good."
Atlanta decided to bring in reserve 3-point specialist Kelly Mazzante and new acquisition Courtney Paris, formerly of Oklahoma University and Sacramento. The less said about Mazzante, the better. In almost 16 minutes on the court, Mazzante shot 0-for-6 behind the 3-point line. Paris had a much better day. Paris would finish the game with seven points and four rebounds, shooting better than posts Alison Bales and Sandora Irvin combined. True, Paris often played against Minnesota's second unit, but she had not lost her shooting touch in Europe.
"Courtney Paris came in and played outstanding for us," Meadors said. "She had thirty minutes to learn our system, and we just ran through a couple of plays with her, and ran those plays while she was in, but she did a great job."
Paris's debut was the only high point for Atlanta. The Dream's woes extended to the free throw line, where Atlanta finished with 20-for-32 shooting and a 62.5 percent success rate. Before Sunday's games, the Dream's 68.4 percent success rate was .043 behind the second worst finisher, San Antonio.
Atlanta shot well at the line for the first half of the game, and then the bottom dropped out. Emblematic of Atlanta's woes was a sequence late in the third quarter where a foul by Lynx guard Alexis Hornbuckle behind the 3-point arc sent Atlanta guard Coco Miller to the line for three attempts with the Dream down 60-38 and 3:25 left in the quarter.
Miss. Miss. Miss. Miller is a 78.7 percent career free throw shooter. The mathematical odds of Miller missing three consecutive gimmes? Less than one percent. Atlanta was 4-for-11 at the line in the third quarter.
Lindsey Harding led all Atlanta players with 14 points - with seven points coming from the free throw line - but shooting 3-for-14. Three other Dream players made it to 10 points, including Angel McCoughtry and Coco Miller. Center Erika de Souza had 10 points and 12 rebounds for the Dream.
Guard Seimone Augustus led all players with 19 points and six rebounds for Minnesota. Point guard Lindsey Whalen scored 13 points and had five assists. Maya Moore scored 12 points and eight rebounds on her first visit to Philips Arena, and post player Rebekkah Brunson scored 10 points and 10 rebounds while center Taj McWilliams-Franklin added five points and 12 rebounds.
"History says we start out fast and fade in the end," Augustus said, undoubtedly remembering Minnesota's 6-1 start in 2008 and their 4-1 start in 2009. "But this is a new Lynx team, a team that wants to win."
* The Lynx had a double-digit lead that lasted for 35:55 of the game. They were never behind.
* The loss to Minnesota left the Dream 0-2 against the Lynx in the regular season. This is the first season sweep of Atlanta by Minnesota in the Dream's four years in Atlanta. The Dream earned their first road win in history on July 9, 2008 on the road in Minnesota, 73-67. Four days earlier the Dream got their first franchise win against Chicago after an 0-17 start. The Dream are 3-5 against the Lynx in franchise history.
* The Dream's 1-5 start is the worst since the 2008 season, which they started 0-17.
* Brittainey Raven - who was waived earlier in the season for Kelly Mazzante - couldn't contain her frustration on Twitter. Her comment refers directly to Mazzante's game performance.
* Atlanta is shooting 67.1 percent at the line, putting it on a course to being one of the worst free throwing shooting teams in WNBA history.
Worst WNBA Free Throw Shooting Teams
1998 Washington Mystics - 64.5 percent
2005 Detroit Shock - 65.8 percent
2008 Washington Mystics - 66.0 percent
2001 Washington Mystics - 66.1 percent
2002 Minnesota Lynx - 66.3 percent
1997 New York Liberty - 66.6 percent
1999 Sacramento Monarchs - 67.06 percent
2011 Atlanta Dream - 67.11 percent (after six games)
1998 Sacramento Monarchs - 67.14 percent
2001 New York Liberty - 67.2 percent
2000 Seattle Storm - 67.56 percent
1997 Los Angeles Sparks - 67.58 percent
2007 Chicago Sky - 67.63 percent
Only three of those teams had records above .500. In all fairness, three teams - 1997 New York, 1999 Sacramento and 2001 New York - all made the playoffs with the 2001 Liberty making the conference finals.
* On the very last play of the game, with 6.9 seconds left on the clock, Rebekkah Brunson picked up a rebound off a missed jump shot by Monica Wright for her 10th rebound of the game. It was her sixth double-double, giving her one double-double per Lynx game this year. It is also her 18th double-double as a member of the Lynx, breaking the former franchise record of Nicky Anosike.
* Iziane Castro Marques shot 1-for-6 and only played 14 minutes. "She did not feel well," Meadors said. "We came in at halftime and she was a little dizzy, and she just didn't feel well. So we felt like it was best that she didn't play."
* Why was Courtney Paris signed? Why not one of the final cuts from the other WNBA training camps? According to Meadors "Courtney has a little bit more experience, and we needed that inside. We thought about bringing Felicia Chester back, who was in our training camp, and Felicia did a great job. But Courtney has that year of experience in Sacramento, plus she had experience in Europe and we felt like that we needed a little bit more experience in that position."
* Iziane Castro Marques and Erika de Souza plan on staying in Atlanta for the entire season. Rumor had it that the two Brazilians would take part in the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship for Women which starts September 24th. "They're too valuable to us," Meadors said. "This has been a season where we've got two posts that are not here now and it's disruptive when things like that happen. But should we be in the playoffs in September, their tournament would be in the middle of that playoff run. Both of them want to stay here and will stay here."
* Yelena Leuchanka will return to the Atlanta Dream after her obligations with the Belarussian team at 2011 Eurobasket are completed. Meadors has spoken both to Leuchanka and her agent and the plan is for Leuchanka to return.