MINNEAPOLIS — Maya Moore and friends didn’t just revert back Sunday night to the form that once had them sprinting away from the rest of the WNBA.
The Minnesota Lynx and their MVP candidate had a former NBA star and colleague of their leader fuming, possibly to the point of regret, depending on the fallout — if any — from his postgame comments.
Maybe it was his team’s third loss in four outings. Maybe it was the absence of All-Star guard Cappie Pondexter. Maybe it was jealousy toward his former protégé, Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve, who’s steering a course that appears destined for a third straight WNBA Finals appearance while his bunch fights for a final postseason slot.
Or maybe it was just that old-school, Detroit Pistons “Bad Boys” spirit rising to the surface.
Whatever his motives, Bill Laimbeer spouted off on Moore and Reeve following the Lynx’s 88-57, three-game skid-snapping victory. His displeasure focused on Moore’s playing time, given the fact his team trailed by 20 early in the third quarter and never sniffed a rally opportunity.
“I was a little disappointed when they left Maya Moore in the game to try and get player of the week again when the game was out of control,” said Laimbeer, who spent 14 seasons in the NBA and earned a pair of championship rings. “She should get hurt for that.”
Moore played 36 minutes, 18 seconds — about 5 ½ minutes more than any of her teammates. The Lynx were a rotation player short without guard Monica Wright and were careful with forwards Rebekkah Brunson and Janel McCarville, both of whom missed time with injuries during the past two weeks.
Moore notched a season-high 28 points on 11-of-17 shooting, including 6-for-10 from 3-point range — also the best-ever for the third-year pro.
“She knew she needed to come up for us big-time,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said of Moore. “I was proud of her that she responded and was really poised. I think that was the thing for all of us.”
Laimbeer’s words ought to make for some interesting theater when the teams square off again Tuesday, Aug. 27 in New York.
He and Reeve’s first clash as head coaches was the least cordial of three separate reunions to take place at the Target Center on Sunday.
Reeve gushed about former Lynx player-turned-New York assistant Taj McWilliams-Franklin, stating that if the longtime power forward ever wanted to come out of retirement, she’d have a place in Minnesota: “When you see Taj out there, you want to run to the back and get her a uniform and get her back out there.”
Both McWilliams-Franklin and Liberty guard Katie Smith received warm ovations from their former fan base during the game. While it was the first return trip the Twin Cities for “Mama Taj,” it was Smith’s last as a player; she announced her retirement before the season.
“I spent the longest period of time here … and I had a blast,” said Smith, who played her first six-plus seasons with the Lynx and still holds franchise records for minutes and 3-pointers. “It was when the franchise was first here, so lots of good memories, lots of fans and lots of people who work here that I get to see every time I come back to Minnesota. It’s always, always pleasant.”
The same went for her rookie assistant coach.
“Shootaround was hard for me, coming into this locker room instead of the other one,” said McWilliams-Franklin, who spent the last two seasons of her playing career with the Lynx before taking a job on Laimbeer’s staff. “Everything here is just so amazing for me. It’s just an exciting feeling to know there are people that really appreciate what you do and bring to the game.”
Laimbeer and Reeve weren’t nearly as complimentary of each other just a few years after guiding the Detroit Shock to WNBA titles in 2006 and 2008.
On coaching against her former boss, Reeve simply quipped, “Eh, indifferent. Bill is Bill.”
There’d been no mention of Laimbeer’s comments to Reeve at that point.
A Google search of both coaches’ names didn’t turn up any publicly-reported falling out between them. Wishing to become an NBA coach, Laimbeer resigned from Detroit duties in June 2009 and took an assistant job with, of all teams, the Minnesota Timberwolves. Reeve, meanwhile, took over the Lynx in December 2009.
In 2012, Laimbeer returned to the WNBA ranks to direct the Liberty.
Tensions are expectedly high with about a month remaining in the regular season. While the Lynx were happy to quell their longest losing streak of the year and regain a half-game lead over Los Angeles for the Western Conference’s top playoff seed, words of caution also ring out as they prepare for a tough four-game swing, three contests of which are on the road against Eastern Conference contenders.
“It’s one game,” Moore said. Injured Minnesota guard Monica Wright (bruised quad) is expected back before too long, and adding a sudden 3-point threat from Rachel Jarry to the mix makes the league’s No. 1 team in point differential even more formidable-looking. Jarry scored a career-high 11 points Sunday and was perfect on three 3 attempts, all in the third quarter.
“It was good to come in and contribute,” Jarry said. “I think the starters have had a really brutal August and we have had a lot of tough games. It was good to come off the bench and contribute some minutes.”