- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
- 0 Shares
Minnesota's Maya Moore talks about the adjustments she expects both teams to make for Game 2 of the WNBA Finals.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota post player Taj McWilliams-Franklin said she used to watch her father play solo chess. He'd be trying to outsmart himself. She'd stay silent and observe, attempting to out-think him on both sides of the board.
"It never happened," she said, smiling. "I'm awful at chess. But along the way, I picked up skills I use in basketball. Because I'm always thinking two moves ahead."
Which perhaps means, in the big picture, that before the WNBA Finals even started, she was already contemplating the strategic differences there would be in Game 2. One of those will be the presence of Dream center Erika de Souza.
Back now from helping the Brazilian national team qualify for the 2012 Olympics, de Souza had a lot to say in her native Portuguese about that experience and her goals for Wednesday's game at Target Center.
Pared down by the translator, the essence of her remarks was this: "I'm going to give it my best, and I think that my best is rebounding and defending. I think I can help the team right now."
The Dream will be thrilled to get her help, especially on the boards. The 6-foot-5 de Souza averaged 7.5 rebounds in the regular season and 10.7 in the three playoff games she participated in before heading to Colombia for the qualifying tournament.
Atlanta was outrebounded 40-28 in Game 1, which was a big part of Minnesota's 88-74 victory.
"Rebounding killed us," said Atlanta's Angel McCoughtry, who will gladly move back to small forward if de Souza is in her regular starting spot at center. Sancho Lyttle will return to the power forward position, and Iziane Castro Marques will go back to coming off the bench.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said, "Game 1 is over with, and those schemes were for that game. Game 2, we believe, has the potential to look a lot different. I don't know that we'll go the same route with our schemes because of the involvement of Sancho Lyttle and de Souza.
"I thought [Lyttle] was not as involved as maybe I'd seen her in other playoff games. I fully expect her to be full of life Wednesday, and Erika being there will be a big reason for that."
Lyttle was 0-of-5 from the field Sunday with no points and no assists despite playing nearly 29 minutes. Dream guard Lindsey Harding said she wants to find ways to get Lyttle more involved in the offense Wednesday. Lyttle averaged 10.0 points in the regular season and 11.8 in the playoffs before being blanked Sunday.
Lyttle thinks that the Dream have proved they can be equally effective regardless of who's available and on court. She's glad that de Souza -- who said she wasn't tired -- is back, but is wary of expecting too much from her.
"We don't really know how jet-lagged she is," Lyttle said. "We just have to ride that out."
How much the addition of one player might impact both teams was the popular question Tuesday, but of course there's more to the game than that.
"I think Game 2 is always an adjustment game in a five-game or seven-game series," McWilliams-Franklin said. "You watch Game 1, and you make all these adjustments in your head that you think you're going to do for Game 2. Then you try to get them done -- if you can.
"The away team is trying to steal a game, and the home team is trying to keep home court [advantage]."
Um not exactly, said McCoughtry. She doesn't like that verb -- to steal -- in regard to what the Dream are attempting to do.
"That's not how we think; we're going to try to win," she said. "When you say 'try to steal,' that's like they have the upper hand."
Good point. McCoughtry thinks the Dream should go into this game feeling they have just as much chance to win it as the Lynx do. For what it's worth, the Dream were confident going into Game 2 of the Finals last year, when Seattle had the home-court edge. But that ended up being a close loss for Atlanta just like the opener was.
To avoid once again heading home to Atlanta in a must-win situation, the Dream have to try to replicate what they did in their best stretches Sunday. Both teams made runs in that game, but the timing of the Dream's mistakes really hurt.
"We only had [nine] turnovers, but it was when we had them," McCoughtry said of the six that happened in the decisive fourth quarter. "I think the main thing is scoring; we kind of rushed shots a little bit. We'll figure that out."
Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen, who had 15 points and six assists Sunday, knows that with de Souza back, Minnesota might not get as many advantageous matchups with forward Rebekkah Brunson (26 points), who often was defended by a smaller Dream player.
"We know defensively for us, Erika is going to be posting up, trying to get offensive rebounds and put pressure on our bigs," Whalen said. "We have to make sure that we're helping.
"As for our offense, we're still going to use our inside players a lot; Rebekkah and Taj have been a strength for us all season. We'll make sure we're getting touches inside."
Whalen wants a little more focused energy from the tip Wednesday for the Lynx.
"Defensively, we weren't as active from the start as we want to be," Whalen said. "We want to get closer to people and get a hand in their face when they're shooting. Offensively, I don't think we really moved the ball well until the fourth quarter.
"You don't want to put yourself in that situation where you're down 12, especially against a team like Atlanta."
The Lynx did have to come back from a first-half deficit Sunday. The Dream were up by three at the break, having been led by Harding with 16 points and Castro Marques with 10. But in the second half, that duo combined for just four more points, all by Harding.
The third quarter belonged to McCoughtry, who had 19 of her game-high 33 points in that period and displayed what a nightmare she is to guard.
But with the score tied heading into the final quarter, the issues that McCoughtry mentioned -- turnovers and not taking the best shots -- definitely impacted the Dream. Atlanta scored just 12 points on 3-of-16 shooting in that period, while the Lynx were 10-of-19 from the field on the way to 26 points.
Would de Souza's presence greatly have impacted any of that? Perhaps. However, what matters now is not just how she's incorporated into the Dream's plans, but the ripple effect on both teams.
McCoughtry, by the way, said she doesn't play chess, though she has always wanted to learn. If she does, she'll figure out more how to think several moves ahead. When it comes to basketball, she's a "react-to-the-moment" player.
"I'm always thinking about 'right now,'" McCoughtry said. "Like, we've got to get a stop now."
In the overall sense, that's exactly what Atlanta has to do.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.
Erika de Souza's return will no doubt impact Atlanta's inside game. But the center's presence could have a ripple effect on both the Lynx and Dream the rest of the WNBA Finals.