The Atlanta Dream are a win away from their third trip to the WNBA finals in four years, but they know very well a 1-0 lead in a best-of-three series guarantees nothing.
Winning either Game 2 or 3 would close out the Indiana Fever, but that's something the Dream couldn't do against the same team last season and something their first-round opponent this year failed to do.
The Fever will try to even the Eastern Conference finals Sunday in Indianapolis.
They were a game away from elimination in the first round against Atlanta last season but came back to win the next two games on their way to the WNBA title. One year earlier, Atlanta lost in Indiana to open the conference finals but won Games 2 and 3.
While Indiana swept Chicago in the opening round this year, the Dream won two elimination games against Washington while struggling to find their shot.
They found it in their 84-79 series-opening win Thursday night, hitting 53.3 percent from the floor while scoring 23 points off 17 Fever turnovers.
"They rely on steals and turnovers, which sparks their offense," said Indiana star Tamika Catchings, who had four turnovers. "We didn't do a good enough job moving the ball quickly. We didn't take the open shots and didn't drive the ball into the defense. But we'll be better come Sunday."
The Dream shot 33.7 percent from the floor in three games against Washington.
Tiffany Hayes led the offensive turnaround with a playoff career-high 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 3 for 6 from 3-point range. She even played through an ankle injury suffered in the third quarter.
"Like (teammate Armintie Herrington) said, you can't worry about injuries right now when you're trying to win a championship," said Hayes, who shot 37.5 percent in the first round.
Herrington also scored a playoff career high with 16 points while adding seven rebounds, five assists and four steals. Angel McCoughtry, the league's leading scorer during the regular season, had 18 points.
Game 1 featured 15 ties and 11 lead changes after all four regular-season meetings were decided by at least nine points. The Fever had a chance to tie it for a 16th time with 18 seconds remaining, but Shavonte Zellous' 3-pointer didn't fall.
While Zellous, Erlana Larkins and Karima Christmas each had 15 points for the Fever, Catchings matched her season average against the Dream with 21.
Indiana shot 48.3 percent, 9.0 percent higher than its league-low regular-season mark, which left coach Lin Dunn pointing to her team's defensive effort as the place for improvement in Game 2.
"They just drove it right at us, and we did not contain the dribbler," Dunn said. "It's one thing to make somebody pull up and take jump shots. But it's another thing to let them get to the rim. ... We know we can do better."
The Dream have now won four of five this year against the Fever. They split two regular-season games in Indiana.
Larkins and Atlanta's Erika de Souza are the only two remaining players averaging a postseason double-double.
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