INDIANAPOLIS -- It was difficult for the Atlanta Dream to talk much about Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals without saying stuff they knew they weren't supposed to say.
We'll give you a big hint, though: Their lament involved somebody who played only 17½ minutes in the Dream's 82-74 loss to Indiana on Thursday night at Conseco Fieldhouse.
"We would have liked to have had the services of Angel McCoughtry, but it didn't happen," said Atlanta coach Marynell Meadors, walking the verbal tightrope. "She never got into any kind of rhythm whatsoever. Whose fault that is, I don't know. I just don't think it was fair, and I'll leave it at that."
We'll bet you can guess who she really did think was to blame. There have been a few complaints -- some much more, um, direct -- about the folks who blow the whistles in the WNBA in the last week-plus, haven't there? Indiana coach Lin Dunn wasn't thrilled with the officials, either. But the Fever's stars, Tamika Catchings and Katie Douglas, both played more than 31 minutes Thursday.
One sequence in the second half Thursday symbolized the frustration of Atlanta and McCoughtry. She thought she was fouled by Catchings, who stole the ball and then went in for an acrobatic, heavy-contact layup. McCoughtry didn't attempt to chase her, instead striking a "very perturbed" pose.
If the Dream hope to extend this series to a decisive third game, though, McCoughtry likely will need to come up big Sunday (ESPN2, 3 p.m. ET) at Philips Arena.
"I know Angel is probably beating herself up a little bit, because she wants it so bad and wants to play so well," Dream guard Lindsey Harding said. "But I have a hunch that she is going to have a great game Sunday, and we're going to need everyone else to play better, too."
Actually, Atlanta didn't play all that horribly Thursday. The Dream outscored the Fever 44-24 in the paint and had a 20-5 edge in fast-break points. Atlanta forced Indiana into 19 turnovers and created some easy baskets, especially early in the game.
But the Dream allowed Indiana to win the battle on the boards, 41-38, and did not adjust well defensively when it became clear that Tangela Smith was having the best playoff game of her long career. She scored a game-high 25 points, hitting 5 of 7 3-pointers.
"Playing them is challenging. It's one thing if we're trapping, and we have to rotate, and everyone has to move," Harding said. "But some of this stuff wasn't about rotation. It was simple: One post rolls, then the other's left wide-open.
"I think we kept anticipating that Catch was going to drive. And sometimes even when she was posting up, she wasn't really killing us down low. She was finding the open shooter. So we have to play in the flow of the game. Although [Catchings and Douglas] are the superstars, we still have to recognize that when someone else is hitting, we really can't let her keep getting that shot."
As for McCoughtry, in the postseason thus far, she has not been at her best. In the three games, she's a combined 13-of-42 (30.9 percent) from the field and has scored 16, 12 and 11 points. Contrast that to the five regular-season games she played in September, in which she scored 30 or more points three times and averaged 26.4.
In her 33 regular-season games, McCoughtry averaged 21.6 points and shot 42.4 percent from the field. With 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting (with no rebounds) Thursday, McCoughtry was just a shadow of herself. Foul trouble, whomever you want to blame for it, largely took her out of the game.
"Others could have stepped up, and we didn't," Meadors said. "I think you always want to go into these kinds of games at full capacity, and we weren't. But we've played without Angel before and done well."
Sunday, the Dream likely will have to play without center Erika deSouza, who is committed to the Brazilian national team and is expected to join that squad at an Olympic qualifying tournament in Colombia.
Meadors wasn't ready to flat out confirm that, indicating the Dream might not know deSouza's status for sure until Sunday. Which is probably hokum. If deSouza does go as expected, the next question is will she come back to the Dream for the WNBA Finals if they win this playoff series?
But before even worrying about that, they'll have to beat the Fever twice.
"Erika is a huge part of the team," Harding said. "It's hard enough anyway in the playoffs; to have someone missing makes it even harder. But there were times when she didn't play this season when she hurt her ankle. There were times we didn't have Sancho [Lyttle], or when Angel wasn't 100 percent.
"We've faced adversity many times, like starting 3-9. We know we can come back from it."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.