SEATTLE -- The Atlanta Dream players probably feel they've made two hefty payments on a mortgage, but neither one actually touched the principle. It was all interest. Now, they'll have to come up with three even bigger sums.
The property they are hoping to get their hands on is the WNBA Finals trophy, but it looks closer to being in Seattle's grasp. Still, the Storm don't have it just yet. So there's still time for the Dream to wrest it away.
They'll have to make a couple of more plays here and there and keep the Storm from doing the same. The pessimist might look at the first two games of the Finals and lament how the Dream could come so close and still not win. In Sunday's 79-77 loss, Atlanta's last-second look at a 3-pointer hit the back of the rim. In Tuesday's 87-84 defeat, there wasn't enough time to put up a desperation shot.
So the Eastern Conference champions came out to face the West champs with their season-best record, saw the green Storm flag flying proudly over the city from atop the iconic Space Needle on game days, felt the formidable atmosphere of KeyArena, gave a good showing of themselves … but still lost twice.
The Storm were defeated twice by a total of five points, meaning that if one possession in each game for both sides had gone differently, the final outcome might have been altered.
Instead, Seattle moved to 21-0 for this season at home, and now action shifts to Philips Arena in Atlanta, where the Dream hope to prolong the series with a victory in Thursday's Game 3 (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET).
"It is a little frustrating, because you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but you just can't get to it," Atlanta post player Sancho Lyttle said, using a perfect analogy about what it has been like for foes to face Seattle all season.
The Storm haven't necessarily crushed opponents, nor should they, really. The talent level in the WNBA is too good for that to happen often. Instead, what it takes to be a champion in a season like this is being able to do just enough to hold off the other team's charges, and that's what Seattle keeps doing.
Both squads would tell you they haven't played as well as they're capable of, but there's an obvious reason. Neither side will let the other be at its best.
"In this matchup, if you have a last chance, I'll be satisfied with that. Because we did both times," Lyttle continued after Tuesday's loss. "Rather than being blown out. We were in this game, too. And it came down to free throws. They hit theirs. We fought as hard as we could, but time ran out on us."
For time to not expire on the whole season, what must the Dream do differently, starting Thursday? There's not a whole lot to change, obviously, based on their near-success in the first two contests.
But the Dream would definitely like to reduce the Storm's free throw attempts. Just as New York was bothered by Atlanta's many trips to the line in the Eastern Conference finals, now it's the Dream that's irritated by seeing the opponent on the stripe.
Actually, in Game 1, there wasn't that much difference in the teams' production at the line, as the Storm were 11-of-14 and the Dream 9-of-11. Tuesday, though, you could tell the Dream were thinking they were getting the short end of the stick in that regard, as Seattle was 27-of-37 on foul shots and Atlanta 16-of-23.
Seattle's Lauren Jackson shot the majority of those free throws, as she was 13-of-17 from the stripe. That 76.4 percentage in foul shots would be good for most post players, but not for Jackson, who shot 91 percent in that regard during the regular season.
The Dream's game plan was predicated partly on getting under Jackson's skin, to harass her as much as possible -- even more than they had in Game 1. But it didn't really work, as she got 26 points both games.
"I think we did a lot of what we wanted to do defensively, but they shot more from the free-throw line," Lyttle said. "So we've got to play defense the way we want without fouling so much."
The Dream used Coco Miller to blanket Storm point guard Sue Bird on Tuesday, as opposed to Armintie Price, who had that assignment Sunday. Bird didn't hit another big shot in the final seconds to win Tuesday, as she had in the Storm's two previous postseason games. But that's because she didn't need to.
Instead, she had to be in grind-it-out mode throughout Tuesday's game for the Storm to succeed, and that's what she did.
"Right out of the gate, we saw they were switching a lot of screens," Bird said. "Everything from pick-and-roll to down screens to whatever. So once you see that, you've got to run things that will hopefully take advantage of it.
"Then they switched to going under pick-and-rolls, and that's when [Tanisha Wright] really hit a lot of big shots. At the end, they started trapping me on pick-and-rolls, so throughout the game they made some changes. But overall, it was similar to Game 1."
And so was the outcome, of course. Seattle's points were distributed a little differently among the players in the two games, other than Jackson's identical production. Wright had four points in Game 1, 17 in Game 2.
For Atlanta, Angel McCoughtry and Iziane Castro Marques were the leading scorers in both contests, each getting 19 points Sunday and 21 Tuesday.
McCoughtry got three stitches after a collision in Sunday's game but brushed aside the suggestion that her head knock then led to her 7-of-23 shooting performance Tuesday.
"I should at least knock down half my shots," McCoughtry said. "But I don't want to blame it on the injury. I'm going to strictly blame it on myself. We're never going to give up. We really haven't had a great game yet. It's little things. I don't know what else we can do, but we've just got to fight to the finish."
Plus, the Dream will be on their turf, for whatever that's worth.
"The first two games were so close, so you never know what can happen in Atlanta," Lyttle said. "Maybe the tables are going to turn. As close as it was here, we've got to fight our way back up."
Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at email@example.com. Read her blog at voepel.wordpress.com.