A couple of weeks ago, Angel McCoughtry — seemingly by the force of her personality — changed the course of the Atlanta Dream’s season.
Wildly erratic during the regular season, the Dream stumbled into the playoffs at 17-17, then opened the postseason with a home loss to Washington in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
McCoughtry’s line for the game: 20 points, four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and one meltdown. “If we’re not upset right now and embarrassed on national television, then we might as well go home now and not show up in D.C.,” she fumed after the game. “Right now needs to be the turning point, this very moment.’’
And it was.
At that moment the Dream had lost five consecutive games. But the Dream hasn’t lost since. Atlanta took the next two from Washington, then swept defending champion Indiana to reach the finals for the third time in four years.
Credit McCoughtry, the fiery, high-scoring, sometimes volatile leader of this Dream team.
“We just became a different team,” McCoughtry said after Thursday’s practice. “We needed more desire and more heart. We had to want it more.’’
For McCoughtry it is a personal mission as well as a team one. She has earned a career’s worth of accolades in just five seasons. She was rookie of the year in 2009, an All-Star twice and an Olympic gold medal winner. She has led the league in scoring the past two seasons, and in steals this season as well.
And yet, it seems, neither she nor her teammates get the respect they deserve.
“We’re rarely in the commercials,” she said. “We never get talked about. We never get any props. Nobody even mentioned us to get here. Hopefully, one day, we’ll get some respect. But it’s OK. Because we just keep ending up right here. Let it keep being this way. I like being the underdog.’’
At 6 feet 1, McCoughtry is both explosive and physical, with athletic ability to burn. Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve put it this way: Everybody knows what it takes to stop her. Nobody seems to be able to do it.
Against Indiana, Atlanta coach Fred Williams played McCoughtry at power forward, where she presents a difficult matchup. It’s likely Lynx forward Rebekkah Brunson will often guard McCoughtry.
McCoughtry averaged 31 points per game — with a high of 38 — in the 2011 WNBA Finals against the Lynx.
This season McCoughtry broadened her game. She is still scoring, but her 146 assists — 4.4 per game — were a season high. Williams pushed McCoughtry in that direction, encouraging her to become more of a triple threat. Her scoring is still there, her assists are up and her steals are still constant.
“I try to add something every year,” she said. “[Passing] was something I wanted to work on. ‘’
But it might be her will that has done the most. The Dream rallied past Washington, then bested a very physical and well-coached Indiana team many thought had hit its stride. And now the Dream is back in the finals, again.
“The third time is the charm,” she said.