To celebrate five seasons in Atlanta, the Dream is counting down its five greatest moments as a franchise on the court during those five seasons. Following the announcement of the top moment, fans will have their chance to vote for what they think has been the greatest moment in franchise history thus far.
We continue the countdown with Moment No. 2 the Dreams first Eastern Conference Championship.
The Atlanta Dream had high hopes for the 2010 season. The team had just orchestrated perhaps the biggest turnaround in league history, going from a league-worst 4-30 during its inaugural season in 2008, to an 18-16 record and playoff appearance in 2009. The Dream lost that playoff series to the Detroit Shock, two games to none, but expectations were soaring entering 2010.
Those expectations appeared to be justified when the team won its first six games of the season. By July 1, Atlanta was 13-4 and considered one of the leagues top teams. But the Dream went just 6-11 the rest of the regular season, and limped into the playoffs by losing six of its last seven games to finish a disappointing fourth in the Eastern Conference at 19-15.
But things changed once the playoffs began. Atlanta first squared off against top-seeded Washington in the conference semifinals, and used a devastating offensive display to quickly dispatch the Mystics in two games. The Dream won the opener in Washington, 95-90, before routing the Mystics 101-77 to advance to the conference finals.
New York the No. 2 seed in the East was the opponent in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Dream kept its hot streak alive, winning Game 1 in Madison Square Garden, 81-75, to set the stage for a contest that could send the Dream to the WNBA Finals.
On Sept. 7, New York visited Philips Arena for Game 2 of the best-of-three series. A raucous crowd of more than 9,000 fans filled the arena, hoping to witness history as the Dream attempted to reach the Finals in just its third year. What they didnt expect to witness was a scoring duel that would go down in the record books between Atlantas Angel McCoughtry and New Yorks Cappie Pondexter.
Atlanta came out hitting on all cylinders, scoring the games first eight points and racing to a 32-21 lead by the end of the first quarter. A three-pointer by McCoughtry extended the lead to 49-35 midway through the second period, and at the halftime break Atlanta seemed to be in control with a 55-44 lead behind 19 points from McCoughtry, while Pondexter had 17 for New York.
But the Liberty would not go down without a fight. A Pondexter three-pointer late in the third quarter gave New York its first lead of the game at 73-71, and the teams entered the fourth and final period tied at 73.
New York briefly took a 77-76 lead early in the fourth quarter, but then Atlanta scored the next six points to once again take control. Pondexter tried valiantly to keep the Liberty in the game, and her bucket with 1:33 left pulled New York within 98-93, but McCoughtry answered with a free throw and a three-point play, and all that was left to do was run out the clock and celebrate.
Three Coco Miller free throws down the stretch made the final score 105-93. Jubilant Dream players jumped onto the scorers table as streamers fell from the Philips Arena rafters, before the Eastern Conference Championship trophy was presented to the team.
McCoughtry finished the game with a WNBA playoff record 42 points, sinking 12-of-20 field goals and a whopping 17-of-21 free throws. Pondexter, meanwhile, had a career best 36 points plus nine assists in a losing effort, making 14 of her 27 field goal attempts, including a trio of three-point baskets.
Miller added 19 points for the Dream, while Erika de Souza had 15 points and five blocked shots off the bench and Iziane Castro Marques scored 11 points. Atlanta shot 52.2 percent (36-of-69) for the game, outrebounded New York by five and had just 10 turnovers to the Libertys 15.
The Dream went on to lose three close games to the Seattle Storm in the WNBA Finals, dropping the three contests by a total of just eight points. But despite that disappointment, there was no denying what a remarkable accomplishment it was for the Dream, winning that fourth playoff game just two seasons after winning only four games all year.
And how sweet it was to win the teams first title on its home court, in front of the fans that had supported it from the beginning.