Angel McCoughtry embraced her role as villain, constantly taunting Indiana's fans while carrying her team to the WNBA finals.
The forward scored 26 points, and the Atlanta Dream defeated the Fever 83-67 on Tuesday night to win the Eastern Conference finals series 2-1 and advance to the championship round for the second straight year.
Atlanta will play at Minnesota on Sunday in the opener of the best-of-five series.
McCoughtry was vocal and demonstrative in Game 1 of this series, earning her status as public enemy No. 1 at Conseco Fieldhouse. She was booed loudly during pregame introductions before Game 3 at a venue where WNBA fans rarely respond to anyone that way.
At one point, the animated McCoughtry threw a towel toward the crowd after coach Marynell Meadors took her out of the game.
The drama was just fuel for the superstar who finished second in league scoring during the regular season.
"You get used to it, but you have to use it to motivate you," she said. "It's do or die. What else can you do? You just use it as motivation and pump your team up."
Iziane Castro Marques scored 23 points, Lindsey Harding scored 16 points and Sancho Lyttle added 10 points, 11 rebounds and five steals for the Dream.
Indiana fought valiantly, but couldn't win with a hobbled Tamika Catchings. The league's MVP was limited to 24 minutes because of plantar fasciitis in her right foot.
"We went out there and played hard," Catchings said. "We didn't play as smart as we normally have. We had way too many turnovers and gave up way too many offensive rebounds."
McCoughtry shot 19 free throws — eight more than Indiana's entire team. Fever coach Lin Dunn didn't care for the way the game was called.
"I'm sure I'm going to be fined by the league, but I thought the officiating was horrendous," she said. "If they're going to have 33 free throws, they can have them, but at least give us more than 11. It was a physical game. It was a knock down, drag out game, and for whatever reason it seemed like the officials were all from Atlanta."
Dunn thought the only foul the officials didn't call against Indiana was the one she wanted.
"I don't know why I didn't get a technical, I sure tried," she said.
Indiana enjoyed a similar advantage in free-throw shooting in Game 1, something Dunn thinks the officials noticed.
"I'm sure that after Game 1 with all of the complaining that the coaches from Atlanta did and all of the players whining and everything, maybe it got to the officials, I don't know," she said. "I certainly didn't think that it was fair."
Castro Marques, the Brazilian guard who took de Souza's place in the lineup, made 5 of 7 3-pointers on Tuesday. She scored a season-high 30 points when the Dream beat the Fever 94-77 in Game 2 on Sunday to even the series.
Indiana's inability to contain Marques in the final two games was key.
"She's been huge the last two to three weeks," Meadors said. "When Erika went with the Brazilian team, she (Castro Marques) moved into the starting lineup and she never looked back. She played really, really well for us."
Katie Douglas had 16 points and nine rebounds and Tammy Sutton-Brown added 11 points and nine rebounds for top-seeded Indiana.
Catchings had six points, five rebounds and four fouls as a reserve. She said the injury didn't affect her much.
"I think once the adrenaline got going, I was just kind of like, out there going," she said.
Indiana entered the series known for its defense, but Atlanta took control of the game by shutting Indiana down. The Fever shot 10 for 20 from the field in the first quarter, then 11 for 36 in the middle two periods.
"I think we just used our speed and our quickness," Meadors said. "We didn't do a lot of things different. We switched a lot, we trapped a lot. We just mixed it up."
Atlanta led 39-35 at halftime and could have led by more. The Dream made just 7 of 14 free throws in the first half and nearly squandered a nine-point lead in the second quarter.
The Dream started the second half on a 7-0 run that forced two Fever timeouts. Indiana got off few quality shots in that stretch, failing to score for the first 3:54 of the third quarter.
Atlanta continued to roll. Castro Marques hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Dream up 57-39 with 3:11 left in the third quarter. Atlanta led 61-47 at the end of the period.
Atlanta opened the fourth quarter on a 7-2 run to extend its lead to 68-49, and the rout was on.
"I'm not going to take anything away from Atlanta and what they did," Catchings said. "I thought they had a good game plan. They all bought into it and they did what they needed to do for this game."
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