One more chance and it won't be easy
Mohegan - This is about the last thing you'd expect the winning coach to say after a game when her team, on the road, shot virtually nothing but layups and free throws during an alarmingly productive fourth quarter:
"I've got to give Connecticut a lot of credit," Atlanta Dream coach Marynell Meadors said Friday night. "They put a defense on us that caused us some issues."
Without those issues, Atlanta might have scored 120.
But then, on a night when nothing else made sense, when conventional wisdom got side-swiped, there are no arguments coming from this corner.
All week, the plan was stop Angel McCoughtry, stop Atlanta. Turns out that Allison Hightower and Kalana Greene played McCoughtry as well as you can. If you had told Sun coach Mike Thibault that McCoughtry would finish with 16 points, he'd have said, "where do I sign?"
Imagine: McCoughtry, the league's most prolific scorer, went to the bench with five fouls and a five-point deficit for her team with nine minutes left. The crowd of 7,373 at Mohegan Sun Arena loved it.
Except that the Dream had the Sun right where they wanted them.
Iziane Castro Marques came out of witness protection to make a pair of killer 3-pointers and Meadors kept McCoughtry on the bench for virtually the rest of the game. No worries. The Dream forced eight turnovers, got to the line 15 times and stopped everyone but Asjha Jones, who scored 10 of her 14 points and kept hope alive.
For a while, anyway.
And now such a fun summer, one in which the franchise reinvented itself, has become imperiled. Go on the road and beat the league's most talented team. The road, where the Sun were 6-11. The road, with the season on the line.
You could trot out the rah-rah speech. But unless the Sun can do better than 29 rebounds to 47, unless they can treasure possession of the ball, the Sun are done.
Oh me of little faith? Maybe.
"The biggest mistake players can make in a playoff series is look at the big picture," Sun guard Kara Lawson said. "The bottom line: Do we have enough to win one game? We've beaten every team in this league. Some multiple times. You can't make it bigger than it is. We'll make adjustments and be better in Game 2."
The Sun didn't play horribly. They were up five with nine minutes left. But there is no such thing as comfort playing Atlanta. Maybe that's why other teams and other coaches in the league were lighting candles when Atlanta was 3-9, praying the Dream wouldn't make the playoffs.
They are a bad matchup for everyone. They have a star. They are massive up front. They have quickness. They have playoff pedigree, having made the finals last season.
And the Sun's reward for winning 21 games was the team that most of the experts picked to win the East in the first place.
So now they move to Atlanta. Maybe they can give the Dream more "issues," as Meadors said. Maybe Tina Charles can do better than 4-for-16.
But you'd be daffy to think the Dream won't be salivating. They have a chance to wrap up the series on their home court. And not that Uncasville isn't lovely this time of year, but do you think they really want to get on a plane again and play here Tuesday?
Nothing the Sun did can't be fixed. But can they do it in time?
"They were a little more physical than we were. They understood you can do that in the playoffs," Thibault said. "Some things are called and some things aren't. They know the difference."
Tune in Sunday to see whether there is a Tuesday in Neon Uncasville.
"It's going to be hard," Thibault said. "But we have a pretty resilient group."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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