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WNBA Playoffs: The Atlanta Dream's 2011 Season Is A Story In Perseverance

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We really shouldn't be that surprised that the Atlanta Dream won the final two games of the Eastern Conference Finals over the Indiana Fever after losing center Erika De Souza to the Brazilian National team. It was simply more of the same for this group that has persevered through injuries and player absences the entire season.  From Angel McCoughtry's knee injury in training camp to Sancho Lyttle's stint with the Spanish National team, Atlanta has treated it all like a bump in the road and now for the second consecutive season they find themselves representing the Eastern Conference in the WNBA Finals. 

For those that have not followed this story from the beginning, Atlanta entered the season with high expectations fueled by last season's Finals appearance and the acquisition of All-Star point guard Lindsey Harding. On paper this team looked to be even better than last season's Finals squad, but they quickly learned that these things aren't played out on paper. An abbreviated training camp was hampered by a trip to England and various injuries to key players none bigger than the knee injury suffered by Angel McCoughtry. 

It took time for Lindsey Harding to completely mesh with her teammates and that was further hampered by Sancho Lyttle leaving the team to join the Spanish National team in their quest for an Olympic berth. Lyttle missed six games while playing with Spain and then missed six more after returning to the Dream with an injured back. However, once Lyttle was back in the lineup and Angel McCoughtry had shaken off the early season rust, the Dream slowly started to rebound from a 3-9 start that saw them finish as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and just one game behind the top seeded Fever. 

Armintie Price leads a contingent of unsung heroes for the Dream as she replaced Iziane Castro Marques in the starting lineup early in the season and provided an enthusiastic spark for the team. Shalee Lehning was lost mid season with a torn ACL but continued to contribute from the bench as an extension of the coaching staff which was on full display in Atlanta's Game 3 victory over Indiana on Tuesday. Whenever it was needed throughout the season, there was another player stepping up to help the Dream. Players like Allison Bales who filled in admirably in the Dream's starting lineup to Courtney Paris who was signed after Lyttle's departure but managed to stick around after her return. 

Of course then there is Iziane Castro Marques who was essentially wrote off after being replaced by Price in the starting lineup. It was Castro Marques' who after being inserted into the starting lineup to replace Erika De Souza scored a game-high 30 points in Atlanta's Game 2 victory and 23 points in the Game 3 series clinching win. 

Overseeing it all was Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors whose calm demeanor guided the ship through all of the stormy waters of the season. Most people will look at the Minnesota-Atlanta match up in the Finals and figure that both teams ended up exactly where they were supposed to. If you think that, then you missed one heck of a story.

The WNBA Finals begin on Sunday with Atlanta traveling to Minnesota for Games 1 and 2. Tip off is scheduled for 8:30 and will be televised by ESPN.