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Dream 75, Fever 66
The Atlanta Dream knew they wanted to get off to a fast start in their playoff opener against the Indiana Fever.
Lindsey Harding scored 23 points to help the Dream take a double-digit lead in the first quarter and they went on to win over the Fever in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Friday night.
Atlanta led 25-15 after one quarter and were up 13 heading to the fourth.
"We definitely wanted to punch first," Harding said. "This is a team that usually has very good first and third quarters with running. We knew that we had to not just match it, but overpower (them).
"That was definitely our plan."
WNBA scoring leader Angel McCoughtry added 16 points and nine rebounds for Atlanta, which beat Indiana in three games in the East finals a year ago. The Dream, who reached the WNBA Finals each of the last two years, opened the playoffs with a road win for the third straight year.
Game 2 is Sunday in Atlanta.
The Dream scored 44 points inside against the Fever, only the second time in franchise history Indiana has given up 40 in the paint. Atlanta also had 14 steals, one short of the playoff record by a Fever opponent - set by the Dream last year.
"We wanted to get up on them, use our quickness and strength and not just match up with them, but put a lot of pressure on the ball," Harding said.
Katie Douglas scored 13 points and Tamika Catchings had 10 points and 11 rebounds - her 19th career playoff double-double - for the Fever. Indiana led just once, at 2-0.
"We'll be ready Sunday," Douglas said. "We need to go with more of a sense of urgency and start with more confidence."
The Dream led by nine at the break as they scored 11 points off 11 Indiana turnovers in the first half. Atlanta also had a 26-16 rebounding edge in the first 20 minutes and finished with a 40-29 advantage.
"We felt that tonight we needed to come out, play physical and dominate the rebounding," Dream coach Fred Williams said. "Its playoff basketball. I was glad the way we had balanced scoring and I thought we really took it to them physically in the second half.
Indiana went on a 13-0 run late in the fourth quarter to pull within three with 1:36 to go. However, the Dream responded with an 8-2 run that included a 3-pointer and three free throws by Harding a steal and layup by rookie Tiffany Hayes to seal the win.
"It goes without saying that we're disappointed that we didn't start the game with more energy, more effort, more sense of urgency," Fever coach Lin Dunn said. "It took us three quarters to wake up."
The Fever were the top 3-point shooting team during the regular season at 40 percent but finished 3 for 13 against the Dream. Catchings and Douglas shot a combined 6 for 23 from the field.
"Tamika and I, as soon as we caught the ball we were seeing trapping," Douglas said. "Just making it very difficult for us to get any kind of clean looks."
Starting guards Briann January and Shavonte Zellous returned to the Fever lineup after missing the last three games of the regular season due to concussion-like symptons. January was hit in the chest with an errant elbow from McCoughtry just before halftime. She returned at the 6:26 mark of the fourth quarter.
Tamika Catchings was chosen as the WNBA Defensive Player of the Year for the fifth time in her career, the league announced Friday.
Catchings received 19 out of 41 votes, 11 more than runner-up Angel McCoughtry. She averaged 17.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.06 steals this season.
Catchings was also chosen to the All-Defensive first team. She was joined by Chicago Sky center Sylvia Fowles, forward Sancho Lyttle, and guards Alana Beard (Los Angeles Sparks) and Briann January.
Connecticut Sun center Tina Charles was named to the second team. She was named WNBA MVP Thursday.