MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - When Erika de Souza decided to leave the Atlanta Dream in the middle of the WNBA playoffs to help her native Brazil qualify for the Olympics, Lindsey Harding and the rest of the Dream managed to get by.
Coach Marynell Meadors ran out a small lineup that relied on quickness and athleticism to create mismatches. It worked like a charm in the Eastern Conference playoffs, helping the Dream advance to their second straight WNBA finals.
Against the aggressive and bruising Minnesota Lynx frontcourt, it was an entirely different story.
With de Souza still traveling back from the tournament in Colombia, the Lynx overwhelmed the Dream down low in Game 1 on Sunday night. They outrebounded the Dream 40-28 and outscored them 52-30 in the paint.
"I think that the difference in the game was definitely rebounding," Meadors said. "They outrebounded us 40-28 and I thought that was a huge, huge gap that we haven't faced in a long time."
Rebekkah Brunson led the way with 26 points and 11 rebounds and Taj McWilliams Franklin added 10 boards as the Lynx overpowered the Dream in the fourth quarter en route to an 88-74 victory.
De Souza is scheduled to be back in time for Game 2 on Wednesday night, and not a moment too soon. The 6-foot-5 center averaged 12 points and 10.7 rebounds in the playoffs before departing for Colombia, and her size could be an equalizer.
"I thought Brunson was able to get some easy stuff," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "And obviously the next game is going to be more difficult for her. ... Game 2 will look a lot different with de Souza back in there and we'll have to kind of go back to the drawing board and look at some things and see where we want to go from here."
With de Souza gone, star Angel McCoughtry moved from small forward to power forward and Sancho Lyttle got the bulk of the minutes at center.
"I've been drinking a lot of protein shakes, eating a lot of meat, trying to build myself up a little bit to bang down there," McCoughtry quipped. "But my metabolism is too high."
McCoughtry was superb in the second half on Sunday night, scoring 27 of her team's 35 points, including 19 in the third quarter alone. But she only had five rebounds, out-muscled underneath by Brunson, McWilliams-Franklin and Maya Moore, who grabbed six boards.
Lyttle had no points and five rebounds in 29 minutes, the Lynx blocked 11 shots and Brunson did whatever she wanted.
"She was all over the place," Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen said. "She just played a huge role for us and she really carried us at times."
Brunson knows the going is going to be a little tougher with that big road block in the paint for Game 2.
"We've prepared for her," Brunson said. "We really didn't gear on the fact that she wasn't going to be there (for Game 1) and forget her because she is a very important piece to their team. But it did open up the middle a little bit."
Dream guard Lindsey Harding, who scored 20 points in Game 1, said she is looking forward to having a little more room to work on the perimeter with more attention needing to be paid to de Souza on the block.
"She's great on the boards," Harding said. "She's great scoring inside and we're definitely going to look to her for that. Look at the rebound (differential). We needed her and everyone else to step up."
Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/APkrawczynski.