The Minnesota Lynx were 27-7 during the regular season for more reasons than they are just talented. They play together and function as a unit near flawlessly at both ends of the court. Thus far in the series, the Atlanta Dream has been unable to replicate that at crunch time and the result is an 0-2 deficit as the series shifts back to Atlanta for Game 3 on Friday.
Consider Atlanta entered the fourth quarter of Game 1 tied only to see Minnesota rattle off a 13-0 run to start the fourth quarter. In Game 2, Atlanta entered the fourth quarter leading 74-69 only to be outscored 32-21 in the quarter. Atlanta is clearly a talented enough team to compete with the Lynx, but if they are going to send this series to a fourth game they are simply going to have to execute better down the stretch.
Now it is also worth noting that Minnesota has seemed to crank up their defensive focus in the fourth quarter as it is not just simply a case of Atlanta struggling. The Lynx has a lot to do with those struggles. For two straight games in the series, Atlanta's fourth quarter offense has broken down into a series of head down one-on-one isolations that has either led to a bad shot or a turnover.
Angel McCoughtry has played well overall in both Games 1 & 2 but she is also the biggest culprit in this case. She is always going to draw extra defensive attention from whoever the Dream are playing and it has been no different in this series. Atlanta needs her to be aggressive but that aggressiveness needs to be channeled within the concept of the team's offense. A great example was Minnesota's use of Seimone Augustus in Game 2 down the stretch.
What looked like a straight isolation was actually set up by a down screen or by putting Augustus in position where she could be successful. All to often during the fourth, Atlanta's possession was set up by McCoughtry taking an outlet pass and simply putting her head down and trying to force the issue. It seems that these moments occur the most when the pressure is on and the score gets tight. Granted Atlanta has been on the road in front of a very loud and enthusiastic crowd and they will likely perform better in this regard at home.
The challenge for Marynell Meadors is to get the ball to Angel McCoughtry in position where she can be successful. The challenge for McCoughtry is to trust her teammates and make the correct basketball play. Whether that be scoring or passing to a teammate. McCoughtry is still going to get her points and anytime she is faced with a one-on-one match up she has to attack. When those one-on-one match ups become one-on-two or three then there is a problem.
In Game 3, Atlanta is going to receive a boost from a sold out Philips Arena crowd and once again Angel McCoughtry has proven to be superhuman in the WNBA Playoffs. However, to defeat this Minnesota Lynx team it is going to come down to whether or not they can execute when they absolutely have to.