A victory at Philips Arena would ensure the defending conference champion Dream won’t return to Connecticut in 2011.
Atlanta goes for a seventh straight home win over the Sun and a series sweep Sunday when these teams continue their best-of-three Eastern Conference semifinal matchup.
Second in the WNBA with a career-best 21.6 points per game, McCoughtry went to the bench with her fifth foul with 9:10 left in Friday’s series opener. Without the No. 1 overall pick in 2009, who didn’t return until the final minute and finished with 16 points, the third-seeded Dream rallied from five down in the fourth for an 89-84 victory.
“When I saw (McCoughtry) get that fifth foul, I was like, ‘Oh, jeez, people are going to have to step up and score and also get these stops,’” said Lindsey Harding, who scored 10 of her game-high 21 in the fourth. “And we were able to do that.”
The Sun will likely have to shoot better and be stronger on the boards after hitting 38.9 percent and getting outrebounded 47-29 in Game 1.
“They were a little more physical than we were. They understood you can do that in the playoffs,” coach Mike Thibault said following the team’s first playoff game in two years. “Some things are called and some things aren’t. They know the difference.”
Sun center Tina Charles, who set a league record with 23 double-doubles this season, needs to be more of a difference maker Sunday after being held to 12 points and seven rebounds in Game 1.
Charles had 17 points and 12 boards the last time these teams met in Atlanta, but the Sun lost 85-74 on Sept. 6 to finish the regular season with a 6-11 road record.
While Connecticut has dropped five of six away from home, the Dream have won five straight overall and a season-best six in a row at home, including a 94-88 overtime victory over the Sun on Aug. 19.
Atlanta, which hadn’t won a playoff series until last year, will likely return to the conference finals if the Sun can’t contain McCoughtry, Sancho Lyttle and Erika de Souza, who combined for 45 points and 30 boards in Game 1.
While winning a title in 2011 is their priority, the Dream made a major move toward strengthening their future Saturday by signing Lyttle to a multiyear extension.
“It’s nice to know I will be part of this franchise’s future as we continue to build our team and contend for a championship,” Lyttle, the league leader with 2.36 steals per game, told the Dream’s official website.
If Atlanta wins, it will play either Indiana or New York in the conference finals.
Game 3, if necessary, is Tuesday in Connecticut.