Five years into her career, she has already cemented her status as one of the league’s best players. After the adversity of losing two championship series, McCoughtry is adding improved leadership to her immense array of talents.
It paid off Sunday when McCoughtry powered Atlanta to its third Eastern Conference crown in four years, scoring 27 points in the Dream’s 67-53 victory over the Indiana Fever. Atlanta swept the best-of-three series and will face Western Conference champion Minnesota, which swept Phoenix.
“I’ve been through so much,” McCoughtry said. “It means so much more when you can get to this point after what you went through.”
The short-handed Fever were trying to become the first franchise to win consecutive titles since Los Angeles in 2001 and 2002. Tamika Catchings led Indiana with 24 points and six rebounds, but the Fever never got going offensively, shooting 28.1 percent. All-Star Shavonte Zellous was held to six points, nearly nine below her regular-season average.
McCoughtry willingly played a decoy role at times. Coach Fred Williams designed sets that had her run away from the ball. Those actions helped Atlanta dominate inside in Game 2 to the tune of 14 layups, 48 points in the paint and a 43-33 edge on the glass.
“Angel really sacrifices a lot to get our teammates open,” Williams said. “When Angel cuts, that takes two (defenders) away. I’m going to slide somebody in there on the weak side. I compliment Angel for making that happen.”
McCoughtry scored 11 points in the third quarter to help the Dream break open a game they led 34-33 at halftime. Riding suffocating defense, Atlanta cruised from there.
Drafted with the No. 1 overall pick out of Louisville in 2009, McCoughtry has won back-to-back scoring titles, started two All-Star games and made the WNBA’s all-defensive team. She has reached the playoffs every season, falling just shy of titles in 2010 and ’11.
Like McCoughtry, Catchings is a star player who endured her share of playoff disappointments. Catchings reached the top last year and said she hopes McCoughtry can now do the same.
“She has to continue to lead her team,” Catchings said. “It’s a battle every single day. She does a great job off the ball, getting to the basket at will.”
This year she has played more team ball than in the past. That’s what you have to do to win a championship.”
Indiana coach Lin Dunn said she has seen growth in the way McCoughtry handles herself.
“As she’s matured and gotten older, you see her keeping her poise and composure,” Dunn said. “That helps her team.”
Indiana started the year 1-7 before finishing 16-18, lost former All-Star Katie Douglas for most of the season and all of the playoffs to a lower back injury and ultimately fell victim to fatigue.
“We had to overcome an enormous amount,” Dunn said. “For us to get this far was huge. This season to me was like a test of your character. We just want to reload our gun and have a few more bullets.”
The Dream will open the finals on the road Oct. 6.
Atlanta center Erika de Souza added 12 points and eight rebounds, overcoming a right ankle injury sustained midway through the second quarter.