Commentary

McCoughtry keeps Dream alive

Even Brittney Griner's dunk can't beat dominant performance

Updated: August 25, 2014, 1:10 AM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | espnW.com

We don't really need a reminder that Angel McCoughtry can completely take over not just playoff games but entire series. Because we've seen it happen enough in recent years. Nonetheless, Sunday's game was indeed another example of how dominant McCoughtry can be on both ends of the court.

And that's what the Atlanta Dream absolutely needed her to be in order for their season to continue.

On a night of the WNBA playoffs when a more recent No. 1 draft pick -- Phoenix's Brittney Griner (2013) -- threw down a dunk and was unstoppable in ending Los Angeles' season, McCoughtry's arsenal was even a little more impressive.

McCoughtry had 39 points and was also able to slow down Chicago star Elena Delle Donne in the Dream's 92-83 victory in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Atlanta's effort means we will have one first-round playoff series that goes the distance.

[+] EnlargeAngel McCoughtry
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesAngel McCoughtry was 13-for-20 from the field and made 13-of-14 free throws for her 39 points.

Indiana in the East and Minnesota in the West secured their trips to the conference finals with victories Saturday. Phoenix did the same Sunday in a 93-68 rout of the Sparks, in which Griner had 21 points on 9-of-9 shooting in just less than 19 minutes of playing time.

Most of the time, that would have to be the performance of the day in the league. But not when McCoughtry, the 2009 No. 1 draft pick, came up so big when the Dream had their backs against the wall.

Despite being the top seed in the East and the only team in that conference to finish the regular season with a winning record, Atlanta just didn't look very good coming into the playoffs. The Dream went 2-6 to end the regular season, and didn't have offensive or defensive consistency.

The defense, though, was probably the biggest issue. Atlanta coach Michael Cooper, who missed time on the sidelines in July after having surgery for tongue cancer, targeted the defensive lapse as something the Dream had to fix if they wanted to advance.

"Prior to my illness, we were playing good basketball, and that's because we were playing team defense," Cooper said on the eve of the playoffs. "That was allowing us to get out in transition and really do the things that we do well, and that's running. I think we kind of lost that a little bit."

In an 80-77 loss in Game 1 in Atlanta on Friday, the Dream allowed Chicago to shoot 47 percent from the field and -- in the crucial stages of the game -- dictate the pace of play.

And it looked early on Sunday like the same thing was going to happen. The Sky got off to a hot start with a 10-2 lead, and it appeared maybe the Dream just wasn't going to be able to recapture how good they've shown they can be.

But then the switch flipped. The Dream had a two-point lead by the end of the first quarter, and led by one at the break. At that point, McCoughtry had 19 points and Delle Donne had 16.

In the second half, though, only McCoughtry would keep up that scoring pace. That's because she was so good at making things hard for Delle Donne in the last 20 minutes. The Sky star got only six more points and finished the game shooting 5-of-13 from the field. She was 11-of-11 from the line.

McCoughtry's ability to "roam" defensively yet still close so fast on shooters is a major weapon for the Dream, and it paid off big Sunday.

That McCoughtry could do that while still playing out-of-this-world offensively -- she finished at 13-of-20 from the field and 13-of-14 from the line -- is why she is such an elite talent.

And now, the Dream gets to play another home game, Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. ET, to try to advance. They have a chance to show that the way they started August, with five consecutive losses, is not the way they plan to finish this month.

Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.

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