Atlanta adapts to Erika de Souza's absence
ATLANTA -- It was a nearly impossible choice for Atlanta Dream starting center Erika de Souza: play in the WNBA Eastern Conference finals, or go home to play for the Brazilian national team in an Olympic qualification tournament.
De Souza made her decision, withdrawing from Games 2 and 3 of the conference finals to play for Brazil in the FIBA Americas Championship. She is expected to return if the Dream reach the WNBA Finals.
The Dream pulled out Game 2 as de Souza's starting replacement, Iziane Castro Marques, scored a season-high 30 points in a 94-77 win over the Indiana Fever that tied the series 1-1.
The series-deciding Game 3 is Tuesday at Indiana (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET). The Minnesota Lynx have already captured the Western Conference and await the winner of the Fever-Dream game.
Dream coach Marynell Meadors had been in discussions with the Brazilian national team since January about de Souza possibly staying with the Dream. The final decision was announced one day before Sunday's Game 2.
"We tried to compromise with the Brazilian national group, and they issued a lot of threats saying [if she didn't compete] she would not be able to participate in the Olympics, should they qualify," said Meadors.
The FIBA Americas Championship is a single-elimination Olympic qualifying tournament that ends Oct. 1. De Souza is expected to return to the Dream immediately following play, with the WNBA Finals starting Oct. 2.
Castro Marques is also from Brazil but decided not to play for her national team.
"I tried not to pull [de Souza] to either side and let her make her own decision," said Castro Marques. When Meadors discovered de Souza would miss Games 2 and 3, she asked each coach on the staff who should start. A smaller lineup with Castro Marques replacing de Souza was born from the discussions.
"We were very positive about doing that because we had great success with a smaller lineup last year," said Meadors.
Meadors joked that Atlanta needed de Souza more than Brazil as the national team easily handled Paraguay in a 117-34 win in the preliminary round on Sept. 24. De Souza scored 18 points.
This isn't the first time Atlanta has lost a player due to national team duties.
In June, forward Sancho Lyttle missed six games due to obligations to the Spanish national team.
"We have been challenged with a lot of adversity," Meadors said, "and we just work through it."