By DEITRA P. JOHNSON (ADW Sports Editor)
The Atlanta Dream’s success against the Connecticut Sun in the WNBA Eastern Conference semifinals came down to two things – team defense and containing 6-4 center Tina Charles.
The Dream limited Charles to 12 points in Game 1 at Mohegan Sun Arena on Sept. 16 on their way to an 89-84 win, and to 13 points in a 69-64 victory at Philips Arena two days later in Game 2.
Atlanta is now slated to play the Indiana Fever, winners over the New York Liberty, in a best-of-three conference final series beginning Sept. 22.
Although Charles was able to pull down an impressive 17 rebounds in Game 2 – a franchise playoff record – as a whole, Atlanta’s defense stepped up when it was most needed.
Atlanta opened in good fashion holding Charles scoreless until the 4:49 mark in the first half. The league’s 2010 top draft pick and Rookie of the Year appeared rattled, missing her first six shots in the first quarter, including two free throws. After missing the front end of two additional free throws in the second quarter, Charles finally found her way to the basket on a layup for her first field goal with 5:11 remaining before intermission.
Tina [Charles] is a great player…she’s just a dynamic player,” Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors said.
“Our post players were very physical which pushes her out on the floor and that’s what we try to do. If you notice she didn’t post up that much tonight. Erica [DeSouza] and Ali [Bales] did a good job pushing her out on the floor so she had face-up shots,” Meadors continued.
However, Connecticut managed to regroup enough in the second quarter to take a 36-31 halftime lead and maintain a 51-44 lead to end the third.
Following a shot from Charles to start the final period, and trailing 53-44, the Dream went on a 25-13 scoring tear, including 7-of-8 free throws. Overall, Atlanta was 27-of-33 from the charity stripe.
Collectively, Atlanta held the Sun to 13 fourth-quarter points, as Connecticut made just 5-of-16 shots. The Dream scored 20 points on 17 forced turnovers by the Sun.
Offensively, the Dream ended the day with a balanced scoring attack despite leading scorer Angel McCoughtry’s shooting troubles. Four of five Atlanta starters finished with 12 points each, including DeSouza, Sancho Lyttle, Lindsey Harding, and McCoughtry, who didn’t hit a field goal until 4:04 in the third.
DeSouza was instrumental in the fourth, pulling down four crucial rebounds in the final quarter, as Atlanta dominated the Sun in the paint, 16-4. Atlanta’s first 14 points in the last stanza came on drives or chip shots down low.
Asjha Jones led the Sun with 15 points and Renee Montgomery finished with 10.