ATLANTA -- It's bad enough to watch a team celebrate winning a title on your home court once. To have to do it two years in a row? Isn't that cruel and unusual punishment?
The Atlanta Dream probably do feel like they have been punished, rather than rewarded, after making the WNBA Finals the last two seasons. Their 2011 campaign ended Friday with a 73-67 loss to the Minnesota Lynx, who completed a sweep.
It was the Dream's lowest point total in 2011 since well, oddly enough, since Minnesota's other visit to Philips Arena this season. That was June 19, a 77-64 Dream loss.
Friday, with their season on the line, the Dream's offense -- which was good enough combined with its defense to give Atlanta a 37-33 lead at the break -- went south in the second half. The Dream scored just eight third-quarter points, as that was the period that killed them this game. In the first two Finals losses at Minnesota, the Dream were undone by the fourth quarter.
Before a crowd of 11,543 Friday, Atlanta almost engineered a fourth-quarter rally to send the series to a Game 4. The Dream pulled within one point on Iziane Castro Marques's 3-pointer with 1 minute, 17 seconds left, as the arena went bonkers. But the Lynx held off the Dream by making enough of their free throws, combined with some missed shots from Atlanta.
There were way too many of those Friday for the Dream, who were 27-of-78 from the field (34.6 percent). Atlanta took 17 more shots than Minnesota (26-of-61) but simply didn't make enough of them.
Last year, the Dream went down 2-0 at Seattle, then lost Game 3 at Philips as the Storm won the WNBA title. Seattle had the best regular-season record in the WNBA last year, just as the Lynx had it this year.
"Both times, we faced the best team in the league," Castro Marques said. "And I believe in life, you get what you deserve. I believe they were the ones who deserved the championship.
"We did a great job during the season through all the adversity. No one believed that we would make it this far. We were the third seed who swept the first round and won the conference finals. I think overall we have to be very proud of what we have accomplished. But again, they just were more ready to do this."
Some might have felt, though, that the Dream were actually more ready because they had played in the WNBA Finals last year, while Minnesota hadn't been in the playoffs since 2004. However, Atlanta wasn't able to find a really strong offensive rhythm throughout the Finals, and it was at its worst in Game 3.
Angel McCoughtry finished another marvelous postseason with 22 points Friday, but the only other Dream player who scored in double figures was Erika de Souza with 11. De Souza also had a game-high 15 rebounds. Overall, it was a pretty gutsy Finals for the Brazilian, who had to miss Game 1 while she was traveling back from Colombia after winning an Olympic qualifying tournament with her national team.
A little time will give the Dream more perspective, which will help them realize that it does mean a lot to knock on the door, especially when your franchise is just four years old.
But perspective isn't easy to come by when your team is 0-6 in WNBA Finals games and, once again, another squad is having a champagne shower in your building.
Point guard Lindsey Harding wasn't with the Dream last season; she played for Washington, which lost in the first round of the 2010 playoffs to Atlanta. Traded to the Dream for 2011, she was upset but tried to be upbeat after Friday's loss.
"Great experience -- and not many people get a chance to play for a championship, but I did," Harding said. "And it was great. I'm not satisfied and am looking forward to next year to compete again."
espnW's Adena Andrews contributed to this report.
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.