The Atlanta Dream and Indiana Fever prepare for their final match up of the 2011 season with the winner of Game 3 Tuesday night advancing to face the Minnesota Lynx in the WNBA Finals. So far the home team has held serve with Indiana winning Game 1 at Conseco Field House and Atlanta capturing a Game 2 victory at Philips Arena.
"This is why we won the Eastern Conference, so we can have home-court advantage," Fever coach Lin Dunn said.
Both teams could be potentially missing a key player in Game 3. 2011 MVP Tamika Catching's status is unknown after she went down with what appeared to be a serious foot injury in the fourth quarter of Game 2. There has been no reports as of yet to whether or not she will be able to play in Game 3. Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors said that the Dream would prepare as though Catchings would be in the lineup so expect an announcement on her status shortly before tip off on Tuesday. Atlanta will be without the services of starting center Erika De Souza who left after Atlanta's Game 1 loss to join the Brazilian National team.
For Atlanta, Game 3 is all about dictating pace and match ups in their favor. Marynell Meadors decision to go with a smaller lineup in Game 2 by inserting Iziane Castro Marques into the starting lineup yielded big rewards for the Dream. Castro Marques finished with a game-high 30 points and was able to help ignite the Atlanta running game which was largely missing in Game 1. It also seemed to revive Angel McCoughtry who scored 27 points after struggling throughout the playoffs.
Now that Indiana coach Lin Dunn has had a day to prepare for the smaller lineup we will see if the Fever can effectively slow Atlanta down. In Game 2, despite the smaller Atlanta lineup, Indiana was not able to take advantage inside in the post. Atlanta's defense was swarmed the perimeter making entry passes to the post difficult and for the most part the Dream's rotations were solid in the paint. They will need a repeat performance of that in Game 3 if they are to pull out a victory and a return trip to the Finals.
Atlanta was able to force some early turnovers in Game 2 which got the Dream into a rhythm early with some easy baskets. Indiana also struggled with keeping the smaller Atlanta lineup in front of them in the half court. Indiana switched Katie Douglas onto McCoughtry in the second half and it seemed to make things more difficult for her but she wasn't needed to do much with Iziane Castro Marques also having a big game offensively.
Game 3 essentially comes down to this. If the pace is fast then that clearly favors the Dream who are more than happy to play in a wild up and down the floor setting. If Indiana can successfully slow things down and turn the game into more of an execution oriented half court game then they have a good shot of returning to the Finals whether or not Tameka Catchings is available to play or not. How each coaching staff mixes and matches lineups to try and give their team an advantage will be key in deciding the Game 3 winner.
For more on the WNBA Playoffs, the Atlanta Dream, and the Indiana Fever be sure and check out SB Nation's women's hoops blog Swish Appeal.