- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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The Atlanta Dream might feel a bit as though they've been running uphill during the playoffs throughout the franchise's short but successful history. They have good reason for that. The Dream have started on the road in each of their seven postseason series.
Now after two games in Minneapolis that got away in the fourth quarter, the Dream find themselves down 2-0 to Minnesota in the WNBA Finals.
Just like last year against Seattle, Atlanta's first game at home for the 2011 WNBA Finals -- 8 p.m. ET Friday (ESPN2) at Philips Arena -- is an elimination game. And the Dream will have a lot of frustration to work off.
It's not uncommon for teams to complain about officiating after losses, but Atlanta was really steamed after a 101-95 defeat at Minnesota on Wednesday. The Lynx attempted 46 free throws and made 38, which were both records for a WNBA Finals game.
"Not to say they were wrong," Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors said of the officials, "but there were a lot of things that I disagreed with."
And if that doesn't make you chuckle at its half-hearted attempt at diplomacy, you're probably a Dream fan too irritated to find humor in anything. Which is understandable. In their five WNBA Finals games, including 2010, the Dream have lost by totals of two, three, three, 14 and six points.
Sunday's 14-point margin at Target Center is a bit deceiving, because that was a game in which the Dream led by as much as 12 and the score was tied to start the fourth period. But at that point, the Lynx began to run away with it. However, that's the only Finals game in which Atlanta was not just a play or two from potentially winning.
Then again, does being close really matter that much in basketball? Maybe only to motivate the Dream by reassuring them that they definitely have the ability to extend this series to a Game 4 -- which would be Sunday afternoon in Atlanta -- by finishing Game 3 stronger.
How? Atlanta must be patient on offense. The Dream rushed their shots in the fourth quarter both Sunday and Wednesday in a way that they didn't in the first half of both games. The Dream also have to figure out a way to use their perimeter offense better in the second half than it did in the first two games.
Atlanta rebounded better in Game 2 and the defense against the Lynx posts was improved. But the Dream will have to do that and find a way to at least slow down Seimone Augustus after she hits her rhythm -- which she eventually will do. Multiple defenders have tried they just have to keep trying. And avoid the fouling that was such a decisive factor Wednesday.
There really wasn't a lot of insight to be gained by discussing anything with Meadors or the Atlanta players on Wednesday night, because they did not see much beyond the foul issues.
It's hard not to feel like everyone -- officials included -- are against you when 15,000-plus are rooting for your opponent. And, as mentioned, the Dream have faced that "visitors" role a lot in the playoffs.
Atlanta's first year in the postseason, 2009, the Dream were the better seed in their series with Detroit. But that was when the WNBA still started its best-of-three series at the worse seed's home court, with Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) on the better seed's floor. The Dream lost their first-ever playoff game at Detroit, then was eliminated in Game 2 in Atlanta.
Last year, the league went to a 1-1-1 setup for the best-of-three series, meaning the better seed hosted Games 1 and 3 (if necessary). But Atlanta, as the No. 4 seed in the East, was the visiting team in all three of its 2010 playoff series. The No. 3 seed this year from the East, the Dream have been in the same situation.
Obviously, Atlanta has proven it can win playoff games on the road, or else the Dream wouldn't have made it to the Finals twice. But the Dream perhaps do feel they've been at a slight disadvantage in all their postseason series.
So now, to get the title, Atlanta will have to achieve what no team has before in the WNBA: Win three games in a row in the Finals after losing the first two.
Since the WNBA went to a best-of-five format -- starting with the 2005 Finals -- the series has gone the distance three times: 2006, 2007 and 2009. In each case, the teams split the first two games.
It did appear, despite the foul trouble, that Atlanta was solidly on its way to a series split Wednesday. The Dream were up by nine with a minute left in the third quarter, and kept answering each Lynx challenge.
But that all melted away in the final period, and 95 points -- with 38 by Angel McCoughtry -- were not enough for the Dream. Does McCoughtry, who scored 33 points in the opener, have another such game in her? What about Augustus, who has scored 22 and 36 points for the Lynx? Will we see another shootout between them Friday?
Or is someone else -- such as Minnesota's Rebekkah Brunson did with 26 points in the first game -- going to step forward in a big way Friday for either team?
Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said Wednesday's fourth-quarter comeback just told her things she already knew about her team.
"I have seen us respond to adversity throughout the season and in the course of a game," she said. "I guess I was reinforced with how tough we were."
Meadors would like to get that same reinforcement from her squad Friday. Otherwise, the Dream will be looking to next season.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.
After a pair of fourth-quarter collapses, what does Atlanta have to do to finish Game 3 stronger -- and to prevent being finished in the WNBA Finals?