The WNBA Finals resume Wednesday at 5 p.m. local time on ESPN2 and all the buzz seems to be about the return of Atlanta Dream C Erika de Souza (pictured right). She made what some found to be a questionable decision to skip the Eastern Conference Finals to help her native Brazil qualify for the Olympics.
After completing that task and jumping the hurdle of getting out of Columbia, de Souza is back for Game 2 of the best-of-five series against the Minnesota Lynx. And just in time, as the Dream was outrebounded 40-28 in Game 1, allowing F Rebekkah Brunson to put on a show in the paint to help Minnesota win 88-74.
“Having Erika, that’s my huge comfort level down in the post,” Atlanta PG Lindsey Harding told reporters in Minneapolis. “It’s going to be great to have her back. She’s great on the boards. She’s great scoring inside and we’re definitely going to look for that, look at the rebounds. We need her here and everybody else to step up.”
De Souza returning should balance the playing field, not clearly tip the outcome to Atlanta. When the Lynx were shooting a dismal 30-something percent early in the game, the extra boards turned into extra attempts obviously helped them stay in the matchup until they heated up in the fourth quarter. The Dream needs to win the rebounding battle and get solid production from Sancho Lyttle and de Souza in order to win.
In Game 1, Lyttle was scoreless playing at center while Brunson and Taj McWilliams-Franklin, who’s 40, combined for 21 boards. The Lynx duo helped outscore the Dream 52-30 in the paint, guards often finding clear paths for jaw-dropping reverse layins.
“I thought Brunson was able to get some easy stuff,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve told reporters in Minnesota. “And obviously the next game is going to be more difficult for her. Game 2 will look a lot different with de Souza back in there and we’ll have to kind of go back to the drawing board and look at some things and see where we want to go from here.”
Even with improved play from Atlanta, Minnesota remains deep and is expected to have another strong crowd at the Target Center. Folks are already buying up gear from sporting goods shops around town, excited to finally cheer for a winner, again. (Note to Storm: Get your gear in more common places).
Still, the X-factor is what de Souza will bring. In two regular-season losses to Minnesota, Atlanta didn’t have its full frontcourt lineup available. Now that the Dream does, it’s hoping for a different outcome.
Below are some more articles worthy of reading while waiting for tip-off.
— For the first time in the WNBA’s 15-year history, two women are coaching against each other in the WNBA Finals. Former Storm coach Anne Donovan was the first woman to win a title in 2004 and Force 10 Hoops was the first all-female ownership group to win a championship in 2010.
— NBA-TV broadcaster LaChina Robinson sat down with the four No. 1 draft picks now playing in the WNBA Finals. You can watch that video below.
— Why are WNBA presidents still trying to get critics of the league to games and have conversations with them? Pointless, but first-year president Laurel Richie speaks to the press — that’ll listen.
— Meanwhile, NPR writes that the WNBA is doomed despite increased TV ratings, attendance, and sponsorships.
— Lastly, the WNBA Finals offers another sneak-peak at possible selections for USA Basketball’s 2012 Olympic team. (But while I heart Lindsay Whalen and think she should be on the national team above any other selection, she second to Storm PG Sue Bird. Oh, and that doesn’t mean Whalen shouldn’t have been first-team all-WNBA. Bird should have been first-team over Phoenix All-Star Diana Taurasi.)