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Dream to play Fever in Eastern finals

ATLANTA — Erika de Souza jumped onto the scorer’s table, waving her arms to pump up the crowd at Philips Arena after Atlanta advanced to WNBA’s Eastern Conference finals with an 80-72 win over Washington on Monday in the WNBA playoffs.

De Souza had every right to take the spotlight after a dominating performance that included 18 points and 14 rebounds. Angel McCoughtry added 13 points, seven assists and five rebounds, but she said de Souza carried the team as she has done all season.

“Erika was ‘Miss double-double’ again scoring and making things happening,” Dream coach and general manager Fred Williams said. De Souza had 11 points and 15 rebounds in the previous must-win game at Washington last week.

Standing in a cold tub after the game, de Souza credited the entire team for helping the Dream advance to face Indiana in the next round. Atlanta will host the first game on Thursday.

“I don’t know if it was my best, we just knew we couldn’t play again like we did in the first game,” she said through a translator. De Souza is a native of Brazil.

Indeed. Monday’s performance was far different than how the Dream played in the series’ first game, a mostly lifeless 71-56 loss at home last week. They bounced back to hammer Washington 63-45 on Saturday and even the series. The difference in both games was rebounding: Atlanta was outrebounded by 12 in the first game, but dominated Washington by 23 in the second game on the strength of a WNBA playoff record 53 rebounds. They won the rebounding battle again on Monday by 15. De Souza had more offensive rebounds (seven) than did Washington’s starting lineup (five).

“Two games in a row she’s dominated,” Washington coach Mike Thibault said.

But Atlanta’s on-again, off-again performances seemed like they were going to continue on Monday as Washington raced out to a 20-9 lead.

Atlanta’s defense began to create turnovers and the Dream tied the game at 22 on a steal and layup by Armintie Herrington early in the second quarter. But they couldn’t take a lead.

With McCoughtry being shadowed and double-teamed, Atlanta’s offense had difficulty finding any cohesion early in the third quarter. But the Dream kept attacking the rim and four Washington players each had four fouls midway through the third quarter.

“It’s unusual in a game like this, that’s that physical, for the fouls to be that way so early,” Thibault said. “I know you are trying to set a tone as an officiating crew, but we’ve never had this kind of foul trouble all season. Some of it was cleverness on Atlanta’s part and I’ll leave it at that.”

The Dream grabbed its first lead, 53-52, on a long jumper by McCoughtry followed by a short jumper by de Souza with 3:25 left in the third quarter.

The Dream stretched the lead to 69-59 with 5:42 left in the game on a layup by Herrington off a steal and assist by McCoughtry. Thirteen of Atlanta’s 16 points in the quarter to that point came inside the free-throw lane. De Souza dominated inside with eight points in the quarter’s first four minutes because Washington couldn’t risk fouling.

The Dream pushed the lead to 75-61 with 3:36 left on a jumper by de Souza followed by an Aneika Henry jumper and runner by Jasmine Thomas.

“Everyone contributed,” Williams said. “It was about effort, heart, rebounding and the offensive boards. We talked about that before the game. It was an incredible game from everyone.”