Depth, chemistry carry Dream

In one of the scarier moments in this WNBA season, Atlanta's Sancho Lyttle caught an elbow from Chicago's Sylvia Fowles and was soon out cold. For the first week afterward, she had headaches. Then for the next week, she felt more fatigued than usual. Standard effects of a concussion, and something athletes and their teams must be very cautious about dealing with.

Eventually, as she recovered, she worked hard to return to playing like her normal self.

"You get hit, you get knocked out … you just gotta get back up and keep going," a smiling Lyttle said earlier this summer. She was talking about her concussion, but she might as well have been speaking about the Dream's season.

Atlanta, which lost six of its last seven regular-season games, entered the playoffs as the East's No. 4 seed and the least-hot of the conference's teams. The Dream hadn't been knocked out of a postseason berth despite their poor finish, but it sure seemed they'd been knocked down emotionally.

But then what did they do in their first-round series against Washington? They swept the Mystics.

They made the league's top-ranked defensive team appear as hopelessly leaky as the S.S. Minnow. They showcased their depth and great chemistry, changing two starters for the postseason and playing as well as they had all season. They made it seem like the seeding was reversed; that Atlanta was actually No. 1, and Washington No. 4.

Of course, it's not as though the Eastern Conference wasn't like that all season -- a topsy-turvy, rough-and-tumble, who-knows-what's-next wrestling match. But in this series, the Dream decisively pinned the Mystics, capped by a 101-77 Game 2 victory Friday.

"Defense and rebounding, I thought, was the difference in the game," Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors said, proud of her team's 45-27 domination on the boards. "We just stuck our necks in there and went after what we wanted."

Sunday, the Mystics had won their sixth consecutive game with a victory in Atlanta, clinching the top seed for the first time in the franchise's history. They were ecstatic. But Friday, back in Atlanta, the Mystics were just plain static. As in, they looked for most of the game almost like they were standing still and watching the Dream run right past them and into the East finals.

Washington didn't just get eliminated from the postseason but obliterated. The Dream, in just the franchise's third season, move on to face either New York or Indiana; the Liberty have a 1-0 lead in that series.

So what happened in the course of five days that made things go from opti-mystic to pessi-mystic? Part of it was Atlanta's lineup change, replacing Erika de Souza and Shalee Lehning with Armintie Price and Coco Miller. It made the Dream smaller and quicker from the tip, which really impacted the opener in D.C. on Wednesday.

In that game, the Dream got off to such a strong start, they were able to hold off Washington's rally. That 95-90 Atlanta win was an exciting, competitive contest. And there was at least some time for the Mystics to look at film and figure out how better to deal with the different look the Dream were starting.

It appeared, to begin Game 2, that Washington had indeed adjusted to the Dream changes, as the Mystics got off to an 11-2 lead. But, in fact, the end was near for Washington.

The Mystics had a second quarter so bad that Washington fans of a certain age might have been reminded of another second quarter in another sport. One that is actually legendary, but in a good way, in D.C. sports history.

In the 1988 Super Bowl, Washington blitzed Denver 35-0 in the second quarter on the way to a 42-10 victory. In the Dream's steamroller of a second quarter Friday, the Mystics played the role of the flattened Broncos.

Atlanta went on an absurd 24-0 run to start the second quarter. By the time Katie Smith finally scored Washington's first basket of the quarter, with 2 minutes, 44 seconds left, you couldn't have blamed the Mystics fans if they'd turned off their televisions and started thinking about getting injured Alana Beard back next season.

Washington will also need to get more help inside to complement Crystal Langhorne's tremendous improvement. And we'll have to see if Smith returns for her 13th WNBA season. She had a very solid season but had a forgettable game Friday, with four points, three rebounds and no assists.

Lindsey Harding had a strong showing at point guard all summer, but didn't play well in the postseason. In the two games, she made 7-of-32 shots (21.9 percent), with just six assists. The Dream's 2-3 zone basically smothered the poor-shooting Mystics (34.7 percent) Friday.

Some might throw the Mystics under the bus for this series loss, but that really isn't fair. Washington achieved a lot to finish the regular season 22-12 without Beard, and the two-game slide after winning six in a row was exactly the kind of thing we saw all summer from every East team. The problem was, the slide came at the worst possible time for Washington.

However, it's almost as if the Dream's slide to end the regular season ended up being the perfect motivation for Atlanta. As fantastically as Angel McCoughtry played individually in the series -- a combined 49 points, 14 rebounds and five assists -- the Dream also played well as a team.

Everyone contributed something. Friday, Lyttle had 20 points and 10 rebounds. Iziane Castro Marques had 21 points. Price and Miller had a combined nine assists as starters, while regular starter Lehning had nine by herself as a reserve. The Dream got a combined 12 points and seven rebounds from post players Alison Bales and Yelena Leuchanka off the bench.

"We all have our strengths to make this team great," McCoughtry said. "Like super heroes -- some can fly, and some are really strong."

Friday, that's probably what the Mystics felt like they were facing: a team with special powers. One that on this night, really couldn't do much wrong.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at voepel.wordpress.com.