Angel McCoughtry called out her Dream teammates after a lackluster Game 1 loss to the Mystics. She had nothing but praise after a series-clinching Game 3 win.
Erika de Souza scored 10 of her 18 points during a decisive fourth quarter and the Atlanta Dream eliminated the Washington Mystics with an 80-72 win in the decisive game of their WNBA first-round series Monday.
"In the first game, we didn't have a sense of urgency," McCoughtry said. "(In Games 2 and 3), everyone played with so much heart. It was definitely a big difference, and that is what it takes to win a championship."
McCoughtry struggled again from the field, hitting just four of 19 shots, but the WNBA's leading scorer found other ways to help her team win, handing out five of her seven assists in the fourth quarter.
"If your shot isn't falling, you have to find other ways to pick up the slack," said McCoughtry, who finished with 13 points.
The Dream advanced to face the fourth-seeded Indiana Fever in the Eastern Conference finals, which will begin Thursday in Atlanta. The Fever, who won the WNBA title last season, eliminated top-seeded Chicago in two games.
The Dream trailed 57-55 after three quarters, but a 15-2 run early in the fourth quarter put Atlanta in position to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in four years. De Souza had six points during the run, emotionally gesturing to the crowd as Atlanta took control.
De Souza helped the Dream to a 39-24 rebounding advantage with 14, including seven at the offensive end. Atlanta also forced 18 turnovers and had 18 offensive rebounds.
"Their experience and willingness to do the dirty work was the difference in the game," said Mystics coach Mike Thibault. "They got so many extra possessions off all those offensive rebounds."
Tiffany Hayes had 18 points and Armintie Herrington added 14 points for the Dream, while Monique Currie led the Mystics with 22 points.
The Mystics, coming off a horrific 25-percent shooting performance in Game 2, hit eight of their first 10 shots en route to a 22-11 lead in the first quarter. The Dream answered with an 11-0 run that carried over into the second quarter sparked by the play of Herrington. She had 10 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals in the first half. She had three layups during the run, the last of which came off a steal of an inbounds pass in the backcourt.
Despite shooting 58 percent in the first half, Washington led only 41-39, and when it cooled off in the second half, the Mystics had no answer for the relentless Dream.
"We knew if we lost this game, we would have been fishing instead of hunting," said Atlanta guard Alex Bentley.
The Dream will be facing the Fever, who eliminated Atlanta in the first round last season.
"They are a tough team that doesn't beat itself," said Dream coach Fred Williams. "They have some veteran players and they are a team that is going to come after you on the boards."
For the Mystics, it was a disappointing end for Thibault, who took over a 5-29 team and guided them into the playoffs for the first time since 2010 with a 17-17 record. The loss to the Dream marks the fifth straight playoff series loss for the Mystics dating back to 2002.
"In the final five minutes, they made bigger plays than we did," Thibault said.