The Seattle Storm are up 1-0 in the WNBA Finals, but Atlanta Dream forward Sancho Lyttle objected to framing their situation as down 0-1.
"We aren't down," said Lyttle emphatically. "We played hard yesterday. And it came down to the last 10 seconds or how ever much it was. But you can't be down on yourself about that because we fought as much as we could and that was the result and we have four more games to go."
But at this point, it's difficult to imagine that anyone really believes the Dream are still somehow out of place in the Finals, despite the fact that they still feel the need to make the point. Even if someone hadn't watched their performance in the playoffs, it should be quite clear that they're able to play with the Storm who steamrolled the league during the regular season.
So putting aside any pretense of the Dream being unable to compete, the question for Game Two is how they can come away with the win they fought hard for in Game One.
1. Stay with the defensive strategy, but close out on shooters better
Despite her final line, the Dream actually did a pretty solid job on Lauren Jackson.
"You have to give good players respect and know that at any given time they can go off and once they do it's hard to stop them," said Lyttle. "We tried to do as much as we could. She got her points, but she could have done more than that if she had the chance to."
However, in focusing on stopping Jackson, Dream coach Marynell Meadors also noted that they gave up too many open shots on the perimeter.
"On defense we would get sucked in and they'd kick it out and they'd shoot a three and they'd make it," said Meadors. "I just think that we're trying to stop a very good team and we try to help each other if we get into some kind of difficulty -- if somebody gets beat we try to rotate over. But the thing is that Seattle did a great job with is they found the open shooter and the shooters made it."
While the immediate reaction to Meadors' observation might be to critique the Dream's overall strategy of going under screens -- especially given the final defensive possession of the game -- that was quite effective at disrupting Jackson, as Lyttle said.
Part of giving up those perimeter shots might just be a reality of playing the Storm -- they're the type of team that has been together for a while and thus extremely adept at moving the ball to find open shooters. But part of it is the Dream finishing out those defensive possessions by rotating out onto the shooters.
2. Utilizing their depth.
Dream point guard Kelly Miller came into the game during the fourth quarter after being injured for the duration of the playoffs and that will unquestionably give the Dream more depth. But what they showed in Game One as well with McCoughtry out is how balanced they can be.
"We've not gone to Angel -- we don't run plays for Angel; we don't run plays for Izzy; we don't run plays for anyone," said Meadors. "They bring what they bring every game and some nights they have better nights than other nights, but I just think that we've got great balance and that's the reason we were able to hang with them."
However, the Dream could stand to leverage that balance even further.
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Alison Bales and Yelena Leuchanka who had been significant contributors off the bench during the playoffs only played 4:10 each during the same stretch, which certainly means the Dream could stand to leverage their depth more effectively.
During the third quarter when Jackson got hot, the Dream were playing with one post player whereas during the second and fourth quarters -- their most successful -- they were playing with two posts because McCoughtry was out of the lineup. It should come as no surprise then that they were more effective on the offensive boards during those quarters and as a result more efficient overall.
If they can maybe extend their post rotation a bit in Game Two to where it was earlier in the playoffs and force the Storm to respond, the outcome could certainly be different.
3. Angel McCoughtry will play more
There is of course a dilemma when comparing Game One to Game Two in that it would be reasonable to assume that if McCoughtry hadn't gotten in foul trouble the Dream would have had a better chance to win, a point that Meadors made both during her post-game comments and before practice yesterday.
"I think being out of the game for almost 20 minutes probably affected the outcome of it a little bit for us, yeah," said Meadors yesterday.
So there will be a choice -- the Dream were overwhelmingly more effective in quarters where they played two posts, even with McCoughtry out.Part of that is offensive rebounding and part of that is helping to contend with Jackson -- de Souza as the sole post guarding Jackson was not a favorable matchup for the Dream in Game One. So they could figure out some way to integrate McCoughtry with two posts, which didn't happen often in Game One. But they could also stick with the plan to go small as they've done throughout the playoffs.
The same goes for Kelly Miller: Miller came in during the fourth quarter and had an excellent assist ratio of 40% and a turnover percentage of 20%, meaning she was extremely efficient as a ball handler in addition to being a three point shooter that can spread the floor. If she plays more minutes, who loses minutes? How does that affect them defensively, where Meadors said the biggest impact of changing starting guards was?
The only thing for certain with the Dream for Game Two is that there is a lot of uncertainty after Game One, much moreso than normal because of their post-season lineup shift. How Meadors handles that uncertainty may be as important as McCoughtry's performance on the court in more minutes.