Dream Gives Washington Nightmare in WNBA Playoff Opener
Her gamble -- benching two starters and going to a smaller lineup -- paid off handsomely in Wednesday's opening game of the WNBA Eastern Conference playoffs, as the Dream stole a 95-90 decision against the Washington Mystics.
The Dream had dropped six of their last seven regular season games to fall to fourth in the WNBA's Eastern Conference, with the last of those losses coming in Sunday's regular season finale at Philips Arena against the Mystics.
Between then and Wednesday night, Meadors benched her starting center, 6-foot-5 Erika de Souza, and her starting point guard, Shalee Lehning, and went with a four-guard lineup. The change jump-started the recently dormant Atlanta offense, which shot 54 percent from the field.
"The starting lineup was not working," said Meadors. "These were defensive players that were in there and we had a lot of speed and quickness on the wings and at point. Everybody came in and played their roles and did a great job."
Second year forward Angel McCoughtry, the league's third-leading scorer, posted a game-high 28 points with seven rebounds and three steals to help the Dream shake off their late season blahs.
"The (regular) season's over," said McCoughtry. "We can't worry about how we dropped. It's a new season now and we're starting over. We just wanted to come in and have a clean slate and fresh start."
Indeed, the Dream did clean the slate, moving out de Souza and Lehning, and bringing in the speedier Armintie Price and Coco Miller, while moving McCoughtry from small forward to power forward.
The Mystics, the East's top seed, seemed flustered with the change, falling behind 10-1 before the 10,322 fans in attendance had literally taken their seats, since the crowd stands until the first basket is scored.
"Their lineup at the beginning ... it was different," said Washington coach Julie Plank. "We played two bigs and they played four littles. It doesn't matter. We can adjust offensively. I don't care what they're doing. We don't give up 10 points that quickly. It took us time to adjust offensively, but our defense should be clicking. We know what we're doing. It was just disappointing."
Said All-Star forward Crystal Langhorne: "We're going to be ready for it this time. I think they really caught us off guard. We were shocked de Souza wasn't starting. It kind of messed up in the beginning. Our offense wasn't flowing."
Washington, which got 40 points from its bench, fell behind by as much as 17 in the third quarter, before mounting a charge in the fourth, drawing to within two with 4:30 to play.
However, the Dream surged right back on a mini 7-0 run to open up breathing room. Down the stretch, Miller, who played in Washington for eight seasons, hit five of six free throws to seal the win.
"I spent eight seasons here," said Miller, who had 21 points. "I enjoyed my time here and there was great fan support, so it's kind of a little strange to come here and play, but we just wanted to come out here and defensively set the tone."
With the unforgiving best-of-three early round format, the Mystics, who won a franchise record 22 games, must win Friday night in Atlanta to force a third and deciding game back in Washington Sunday.
"You come with focus," said Washington center Chasity Melvin. "You come to the game mentally prepared. You can't start thinking about 'Oh, my season's going to be over if I lose this game. You've got to come with the same mentality and just focus in on what you've done all season."