(ATLANTA) – Atlanta fans were happy that Dream center Erika de Souza skipped the FIBA Americas tournament to play in the Dream’s post-season, but after a dismal Game 1 performance, it seemed that her only reward would be misery. But Erika – and the Dream’s – storm would have a happy ending as de Souza’s play pushed a 15-2 run by Atlanta in the fourth quarter to give the Dream an 80-72 Game Three Eastern Conference Semifinals victory and propel the Dream further into the post-season.
"Erika was terrific tonight," Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said. "That was two games in a row that she dominated on the boards. She had more offensive rebounds than our entire starting lineup by herself."
Atlanta now faces the Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference Finals, in no small part due to de Souza’s 18 point and 14 rebound performance.
"I’m very proud of the Atlanta Dream," Dream head coach Fred Williams said. "The game was about effort, heart, rebounding and the offensive boards. It was just an incredible game from everyone. Angel McCoughtry had some good shots down the stretch. Erica, Ms. Double-Double Queen, was making a lot of things happen for us. Everyone contributed, and I am so proud of the Atlanta Dream."
Washington would establish the lead early on, taking a 10-2 lead with a pair of 3-pointers from Mystics point guard Ivory Latta. The Mystics were hitting everything from outside and another 3-pointer from Washington forward Monique Currie extended Washington’s lead to 11 points. Even though Atlanta shot just 33 percent in the first quarter, they took more shots than the Mystics and Dream guard Armintie Herrington’s arrival at quarter’s end was a much-needed infusion of energy. She scored four points in just 3 ½ minutes and after point guard Alex Bentley was fouled behind the arc her three converted free throws closed Atlanta to 22-20 at the end of the quarter.
Herrington led with a steal and fast break at the start of the second to tie the game at 22-22, but Atlanta found itself in early foul trouble and Washington pushed back into the lead. Washington coach Mike Thibault put his rookies in and was rewarded with tough defense. Washington found itself over the limit, though, and four consecutive free throws by Dream players closed the gap yet again to 41-39 at halftime.
The Mystics shot 57 percent in the first half – but turned the ball over. With Atlanta winning the war on the offensive glass, they could take enough shots to remain close despite a 34 percent first half shooting percentage.
"They made more off our turnovers then we did off theirs," Thibault said. "Offensive rebounds were huge; they ended up getting 13 more field goal attempts because of it. This is the second game in the series where we shot a better field goal percentage but still lost."
The third quarter almost became a comedy of errors. No fewer than four Washington players – center Kia Vaughn, Monique Currie, forward Crystal Langhorne and guard Matee Ajavon - registered their fourth fouls. Atlanta took advantage and a basket by de Souza put the Dream up for the first time, 53-52 with 3:25 left in the third However, Dream center (?) Ruth Riley picked up three consecutive fouls in 15 seconds (!) and de Souza picked up her fourth foul. Washington clung to a slim 55-53 lead after thirty minutes of play.
The fouls on Washington’s players were clearly a factor in the second half.
"Fouls are sometimes a reason why you don’t want to be aggressive," Kia Vaughn said, "because you are going to get called on tick-tack fouls and you want to stay in the game."
"We haven’t been in that much foul trouble this season, we’ve never had that much foul trouble in a game," Thibault said. "Some of it was cleverness on Atlanta’s part. I’ll leave it at that."
Atlanta shut the door in the fourth quarter. They went on a 15-2 run that expanded their lead to 75-61, their biggest lead of the night. De Souza scored eight points during the run, with almost half of her total points coming in a span of just four minutes and 16 seconds.
De Souza wasn’t shy of displaying emotion during crunch time.
"Erika is the type of player who is very energetic," Williams said. "She hypes up the fans, and when she threw her arms up I almost got hit on the sideline tonight so I moved out the way!"
Five players finished in double-figures for Atlanta. Tiffany Hayes also scored 18 points for the Dream. Angel McCoughtry scored 13 points on 4-for-19 shooting but added seven assists and four steals. Armintie Herrington scored 14 points off the bench.
For the Mystics, Monique Currie led all players with 22 points. Ivory Latta scored 15 points with 3-for-6 shooting from 3-point rand and Kia Vaughn scored 10 points.
The Mystics came farther than anyone expected in 2013 after 11 wins in the previous two seasons.
"You can’t take anything from them, but you can’t take anything from us either," Vaughn said. "We came a long way this year. We just have a lot of work to do this next year."
* Atlanta moves on to its third visit to the Eastern Conference Finals in the last four years. The Dream are 2-0 in conference finals series.
* The last time the Mystics have won a playoff series was when they reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2002.
* This is also the seventh consecutive Game3 of any series that Mike Thibault has lost, dating back to a Game 3 loss with Connecticut in the final game of the 2004 WNBA Finals.
Dream forward Angel McCoughtry on the difference between this game and Game One of the series: "The first game was very flat, and there was no sense of urgency. Everyone came with so much heart and desire. It definitely made a big difference, and that is what it takes to win championships."
McCoughtry on her offensive performance during the series: "There's been a lot of double-teams, a lot of triple-teams, so it's been really tough to get my shot off. But that's what you have to do. You have to find other ways to pick up the slack."
Fred Williams on the performance of Armintie Herrington: "Armintie is an All-Defensive team member for us. She’s that all-purpose player that’s going to keep her all no matter what. She shows that towards her teammates. I know she has a little difficulty shooting with her shoulder injury, but she still plays hard. She also plays great defensively and that is why on key plays I keep her in."
Williams on Erika’s decision: "We talked about it all season. We had a good rapport with her and she has a good relationship with the team. She loves Atlanta, she loves the Dream, and she wanted to stay and give it a shot this year."
Williams on tinkering with starting lineups: "You don’t really want to do that unless players have injuries and you have to slot someone in due to injuries. Aneika [Henry] filled in for Le’coe for our last game when Le’coe didn’t play. She stepped up and got some rebounds and some boards for us."
Williams on Indiana: "Tough team. They're a team that doesn't beat themselves. We're aware of how they play, they're the defending champions and they've been playing like that lately."
For more on the Dream's first round victory from a Mystics perspective, check out our series storystream.