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Atlanta Dream eliminate No. 1 seed from playoffs

Photo by Erik S. Lesser

Photo by Erik S. Lesser

ATLANTA -- Angel McCoughtry scoffed at the notion Atlanta was an underdog against Washington in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

McCoughtry said the seeds -- the Mystics were No. 1 and the Dream were No. 4 -- were irrelevant in the tight conference race, which Atlanta led for about half the season.

McCoughtry and the Dream proved the point.

Atlanta broke open a close game by scoring 26 consecutive points and the Dream beat the Mystics 101-77 on Friday night to advance to the Eastern Conference finals.

"It doesn't matter what the seeding is," McCoughtry said. "The conference is so tough. You can't say who is really 1 and 4 and 3 and 2. We all are tough."

Iziane Castro Marques and McCoughtry each scored 21 points for Atlanta. McCoughtry had 17 points in the first half before sitting out most of the final two periods.

Sancho Lyttle had 20 points and 10 rebounds as the Dream completed the surprising two-game sweep of the Mystics in the best-of-three series.

Atlanta will play either New York or Indiana in its first Eastern Conference finals. The Liberty lead that series 1-0.

Matee Ajavon led Washington with 20 points. Monique Currie had 12 points and Crystal Langhorne had 11.

Trailing 21-15, the Dream's Armintie Price had a layup with less than a second left in the first quarter, and Atlanta scored the first 24 points of the second quarter to take a 20-point lead.

"When they're playing like that, you really need to slow them down and we just didn't do that," Langhorne said. "We were missing some shots and they just kept pushing it at us."

Atlanta opened with a small lineup for the second straight game and won with its uptempo offense and 2-3 zone defense.

"The pace was definitely to their advantage," Washington coach Julie Plank said. "They did go quicker. They did push the ball a lot in transition and scored a lot of fastbreak points."

Washington was one of the WNBA's top defensive teams in the regular season by giving up 76.9 points per game. The Dream won the playoff opener 95-90 before continuing the high-scoring pace on Friday night.

"Giving up 95 and 101 is not a good thing for our team," Plank said.

Atlanta moved ahead 75-40 late in the third quarter.

The Dream outrebounded Washington 45-27 and handed the Mystics their eighth straight playoff loss. Washington has been swept in three straight playoff appearances and has not won a postseason game since Sept. 25, 2004, against Connecticut. Indiana swept the Mystics in the opening round last year.

"We didn't bring it in the playoffs, and that was disappointing, especially at the defensive end, which has been our staple," Plank said. "I'm not going to let these two games take away from the season that we had. I don't look at it as we didn't win a playoff game last year or this year. I look at it as we had a fine season."

Atlanta's two-game sweep was a dramatic reversal of each team's play at the end of the regular season.

The Dream closed the regular season with losses in five of their last six games. Washington won six straight to finish with a franchise-record 22 wins, but it couldn't maintain that momentum in the playoffs.

The clinching win came on Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors' 67th birthday.

"This is probably the best birthday I've ever had as a professional coach," she said.

The Mystics led 13-3 in the opening minutes and 21-15 in the final minute of the first quarter. Washington then missed its first 13 shots of the second period.

McCoughtry had seven points and Castro Marques added six as Atlanta led 41-21 before Katie Smith scored Washington's first points of the second quarter with only 2:44 remaining in the half.

The Dream outscored the Mystics 33-7 in the decisive second period and led 50-28 at the break.

Coco Miller, who had 21 points for Atlanta in her first start of the season in the series opener, had nine points. Price had six points and six assists in her second straight start -- and second start of the season.