ATLANTA -- Walking the ball up the court, passing it around the perimeter and looking for jump shots over a set defense isn't really the Dream's thing.
They had enough of that kind of grinding game during their first-round playoff series against Washington. With Indiana at Philips Arena for the Eastern Conference finals Thursday, the Dream were ready to run behind guard Tiffany Hayes.
Hayes scored a game-high 23 points to lead the Dream to an 84-79 victory in Game 1. The Dream can earn the franchise's third trip to the WNBA finals with a victory in Game 2 on Sunday at Indiana.
Game 3, if necessary, will be Tuesday at Philips Arena.
Dream coach Fred Williams used a big lineup with 6-foot-4 Aneika Henry and 6-foot-5 Erika de Souza in two victories against Washington. Williams went back to a smaller alignment against Indiana with 5-9 Armintie Herrington on the wing.
The Dream pushed the pace with Herrington and Angel McCoughtry alongside guards Hayes and Jasmine Thomas. Hayes was 8-of-14 from the field, including 3-of-6 on 3-pointers, and made 4 of 5 free-throw attempts.
"Tiffany is a roadrunner," Williams said. "She loves to run the floor and play defense. She's done a great job slashing to the basket. With her tenacious drive to make things happen in the open floor, it gives people a lot of trouble." With the Dream looking to close the victory, Hayes attacked the basket in transition for a three-point play that pushed the lead to 74-70. After de Souza scored on a layup to make the lead 76-72, Hayes forced a turnover and then made a driving basket.
Indiana cut the deficit to 78-75 on a 3-pointer by Shavonte Zellous with about 90 seconds to play. McCoughtry answered with a three-point play for an 81-75 lead with 1:07 to play.
The Dream then had to survive a frantic final minute.
Indiana forward Tamika Catchings made a 3-pointer with the shot clock expiring and 42.4 seconds left to play, and she drew a foul. But she missed the free throw, and McCoughtry made 1 of 2 free throws for an 82-78 Atlanta lead with 16.4 seconds to go.
Indiana got within 82-79 on Catchings' free throw and retained possession because the foul came before the ball was thrown in from out of bounds. Fever guard Briann January missed a jump shot, and McCoughtry made two free throws to seal the victory.
"I thought we put ourselves in position to win on the road, but we just didn't finish the job," Fever coach Lin Dunn said. "The one thing we didn't do tonight is contain the dribble penetration. They put their heads down and got to the basket." The Fever defeated the Dream in the first round of the 2012 playoffs on the way to winning the WNBA championship. A key player from that team, star forward Katie Douglas, is out with a back injury that limited her to four regular-season games.
Indiana needed a strong finish to the regular season just to make the playoffs after opening the season with seven losses in their first eight games. The Fever lost three of four games to Atlanta during the regular season, including both meetings at Philips Arena.
But the Fever, led by 2012 WNBA finals MVP Catchings, advanced to the East finals by eliminating top seed Chicago in the first round. Catchings led Indiana with 20 points.
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