SEATTLE — The Atlanta Dream aren’t making it easy on the Seattle Storm.
The KeyArena crowd isn’t making in easy on the Dream.
The Storm moved one win away from a championship, outlasting the Dream 87-84 to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five WNBA Finals.
“I thought it was another very, very competitive game,” Storm head coach Brian Agler said.
With the win, the Storm improved their record to 21-0 at KeyArena including the regular season and the playoffs. They did it before a crowd of 13,898.
If the Storm have their way, the next time they return to Seattle it won’t be to play a deciding Game 5 for the championship, but rather for a parade to celebrate their second title in franchise history.
Game 3 is at 5 p.m. Thursday in Atlanta.
If the Storm can end the series on Thursday, they will complete an undefeated postseason (7-0) and end the season on a 10-game winning streak.
In Game 1, the issue was in doubt until the final buzzer sounded. It looked like Game 2 would have a different story line when Swin Cash connected from 3-point range with 2:11 remaining, boosting Seattle’s lead to 81-73.
However, the Dream wouldn’t go quietly and the game came down to the final seconds once again.
“We never die. We never stop. We always play to the end of the game,” Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors said.
Forward Angel McCoughtry cut the Storm lead to 85-82 when she knocked down a 3-pointer with 16.5 seconds to play. Atlanta fouled Seattle guard Tanisha Wright with 9.2 seconds remaining in the game to stop the clock. Wright hit both free throws to give the Storm an 87-82 lead.
Atlanta guard Kelly Miller stuck a baseline 3-pointer with 3.0 seconds to go to seemingly cut the Storm lead to 87-85. But the officials reviewed the basket and decided Miller’s foot was on the line — making it a 2-pointer, not a 3-pointer, and making the score 87-84 in favor of the Storm.
After a timeout, the Storm inbounded the ball to Swin Cash, who was immediately fouled by Miller. All Cash had to do was make one free throw preserve a Storm win.
She missed both.
However, with no timeouts, the Dream couldn’t stop the clock and their desperate attempt to get up a game-tying 3-point attempt never materialized.
League MVP Lauren Jackson led the Storm with 26 points, but she had to do it in a very different way than she did it in Game 1. The Dream were much more physical with Jackson, sending her to the line 17 times, 10 more than her seven trips on Sunday.
“It was definitely physical; there was a lot of contact,” Jackson said.
Jackson shot 13-for-17 from the free throw line and 6-for-12 from the floor. She also grabbed seven rebounds and made three steals.
Not only were the Dream more physical with Jackson, but they also took away another of her most potent weapons — her 3-point shot. Jackson made just one of five shots from 3-point range in the game. She shot 4-for-8 in Game 1.
“I think they made sure I didn’t get looks outside, generally speaking,” Jackson said. “That’s okay though, everyone played well tonight for us. I think we can get better definitely, but, you know I think they were more focused on stopping me from shooting outside.”
The Dream jumped out to an early first quarter lead, taking a 7-2 lead. The Storm promptly called a time out to regroup and quickly went on a 6-0 run to move in front.
Much of the game went that way and neither team led by more than eight points. Perhaps one reason for the inability for either team to pull away was the number of whistles blown. The Storm shot 37 free throws and the Dream shot 23 — for a total of 60. The two teams combined to shoot 25 in Game 1.
“I thought there was way too many fouls called in this one,” Meadors said.
But both teams fought through all the calls and the game remained close throughout. The Dream held a four-point advantage after one quarter. The Storm had a two-point lead at halftime and a four-point lead after three quarters.
“I think another great game, both teams played really hard,” Meadors said. “We lost by two and we lost by three — that’s pretty good championship basketball.”
The Storm are one game away from the championship, but heading to Atlanta for the next two games could make things hard on the Storm. To get the job done, the Storm need to cut down on the mental mistakes.
“For us to win this series, we are going to have to cut our turnovers down,” Agler said.
The Storm nearly had all of their starters finish in double-figures scoring. Cash had 19, Wright had 17 and Bird had 10. Only Camille Little didn’t break out of single digits, finishing with nine.
McCoughtry and Iziane Castro Marques paced the Dream with 21 points a piece.