McCoughtry, Dream beat Sun to reach East finals

If Dream coach Marynell Meadors had a choice, she'd opt against her team's knack for sluggish starts. However, she's quite happy with Atlanta's ability to rally for wins.

Angel McCoughtry was one of four Atlanta players to score 12 points, getting all of her points in the second half, as the Dream used another fourth-quarter surge Sunday to rally past the Sun for a 69-64 win and their second straight trip to the WNBA Eastern Conference finals.

Tina Charles' jumper at the start of the fourth period gave the Sun a 53-44 lead. Then, the Dream started driving and out-scored Connecticut 25-11 the rest of the way to sweep the series.

Call it a trend. On Friday night, the Dream outscored the Sun 28-18 in the final period to win Game 1 89-84 in Connecticut.

"We were down . . . and it doesn't seem to bother us," Meadors said. "I'll tell you what; get us to the fourth quarter and we're pretty good. It was all about our defense, and it wasn't anything the coaches were saying."

The Dream will open the conference finals Thursday against Indiana or New York. The deciding Game 3 of that series is Monday night at Indianapolis.

Asjha Jones scored 15 points to lead Connecticut (21-15), and Charles added 13 points and a Sun franchise playoff-record 17 rebounds.

Atlanta, which finished the regular season 17-5 after a 3-9 start, has now won nine of its last 10 overall since a 96-87 loss at Connecticut on Aug. 21. The Dream won this game by attacking the glass late and hitting free throws.

They won the opener of this series with an overwhelming 47-29 rebounding edge. Sunday, the Sun forged a 32-29 edge on the boards through three quarters after coach Mike Thibault made rebounding a point of emphasis before the game. Charles had 15 rebounds through three periods. She had just two in the fourth quarter as Atlanta outrebounded Connecticut 13-5.

Atlanta's Sancho Lyttle, Lindsey Harding and Erika de Souza also had 12 points each. De Souza had four of her team-high 10 rebounds in the final quarter, when the Dream out-scored the Sun 16-4 in the paint.

"They're tough inside," Jones said. "They have post players who are good at blocking out, and they also have post players who can shoot jumpers so that makes matching up a little difficult."

After Charles' jumper to begin the fourth gave the Sun a nine-point lead, Atlanta's next seven baskets were drives or point-blank shots.

Connecticut made just 5-of-16 shots in the final quarter, and Harding's drive down a crowded lane with 3:28 left gave Atlanta a 58-57 lead — the Dream's first since 28-27 in the second quarter.

Seven Atlanta players scored in the fourth period, when Harding, McCoughtry and reserve Iziane Castro Marques scored six each. That balance is nothing new. In the Dream's series-opening win, all five starters scored at least 13 points.

"Izi can start on any team . . . and having her be a spark off the bench is huge for us," Harding said. "It makes it extremely hard to stop a team when it's like, 'Who's going to score?' I love being part of it, and sharing the ball."

After taking the lead for good, Atlanta stretched it as far as seven points at 66-59 on Harding's two free throws with 32 seconds left.

The Sun could not pull closer in large measure because the Dream grabbed seven of the game's final eight rebounds after taking the lead.

Although the Dream were the league's least efficient free-throw shooting team during the regular season, Atlanta made 7 of 8 from the line in the final quarter, and 27 of 33 overall Friday night.

Connecticut turned the ball over 17 times Sunday, leading to 20 Atlanta points, and the Sun managed just eight points off the Dream's 10 turnovers.

"We did everything we could defensively," Thibault said. "Our offense gave it back to them."