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Dream headed to WNBA finals

Photo by Daniel Kay

Photo by Daniel Kay

ATLANTA -- Angel McCoughtry needed a few minutes to let it all sink in.

The second-year Dream star set a new league playoff scoring record and helped Atlanta make the WNBA finals for the first time.

McCoughtry had 42 points to win a high-scoring duel with Cappie Pondexter as the Dream beat the New York Liberty 105-93 on Tuesday night to complete their unlikely march to the league finals.

Perhaps overwhelmed by it all, McCoughtry at first claimed the Eastern Conference finals clincher "was just another game."

Just another game? McCoughtry couldn't leave that as her signoff on the biggest night of her two-year professional career.

"I take it back," McCoughtry said when asked again. "This was different."

McCoughtry, the 2009 WNBA rookie of the year, has scored more than 20 points in Atlanta's four straight playoff wins.

"Angel McCoughtry just really showed how good she is going to be and what a bright star she is already," said New York coach Anne Donovan.

Atlanta, a third-year expansion franchise which set a league record with 30 losses only two years ago, will face the Western Conference champion Seattle Storm in the WNBA finals. The best-of-five series begins Sunday in Seattle.

The Dream, the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, swept Washington in the first round before also winning two straight over the Liberty in the conference finals.

Atlanta players jumped on the scorer's table and streamers fell from the Philips Arena rook after the final buzzer.

"I really enjoyed it," McCoughtry said. "The atmosphere has been great. This is what you play for."

McCoughtry surpassed the 41 points that Tamika Whitmore scored against Detroit while she played for Indiana in 2006.

Pondexter led New York with 36 points, her postseason high mark and the third-highest ever in a playoff game. She had nine assists.

"We're both leaders on our teams," Pondexter said of her scoring showdown with McCoughtry. "We expect it. She was in a great rhythm. She got to the foul line a lot. She did a great job in attacking our defense. She was aggressive from the beginning."

The Dream led by 14 late in the first half before New York rallied to pull even at 73-73 entering the fourth quarter.

Atlanta's Coco Miller, who had 19 points, opened the final period with a 3-pointer. New York took its last lead at 77-76 on a basket by Taj McWilliams-Franklin. McCoughtry answered with two free throws, and the Dream extended the lead in the final 8 minutes.

McCoughtry's previous career high was 34 points.

Erika DeSouza had 15 points and Iziane Castro Marques had 11 for Atlanta.

Essence Carson had 20 points and Plenette Pierson added 13 before fouling out for New York.

Atlanta was second in the league with its regular-season average of 85.4 points per game. The Dream picked up the scoring pace by scoring 98 points per game in the first-round series against Washington.

Dream coach Marynell Meadors tweaked her lineup against Washington. A smaller look only added to Atlanta's fast-break potential, and the Dream kept up the up-tempo pace against New York.

With McCoughtry leading the way, the Dream had 25 fast-break points.

Atlanta led 55-44 at the break. The Liberty opened the second half with a 14-4 run to cut Atlanta's lead to 59-58.

McCoughtry responded with back-to-back baskets for Atlanta.

Tempers flared and players had to be separated with 5:53 remaining in the third period following McWilliams-Franklin's foul on DeSouza, who had an animated reaction and was called for a technical foul. Meadors and the Dream argued the call.

There was another delay later in the period due to a clock malfunction.

New York continued its comeback, finally pulling even for the first time at 70-all on a three-point play by Carson. A 3-pointer by Pondexter gave New York the lead, before the period ended with the second tie of the game, at 73-all.

New York's Janel McCarville missed her third straight game with a sprained ankle. McCarville was with the team but was not in uniform.