On a night when old reliable Rebekkah Brunson returned, Shoni Schimmel shone, and the Lynx and Dream clashed in a gritfest becoming of another WNBA Finals rematch, Minnesota’s star forward strode closer toward league MVP honors.
"I don’t know; I blacked out," she joked after the Lynx’s 112-108, double-overtime win. "That’s probably one of the most entertaining games I’ve been a part of."
And Moore did much of the enthralling.
Her 48 points broke a single-game franchise record and were three off the WNBA mark set last year by Tulsa’s Riquna Williams. Moore tallied her 10th 30-point game of the season, too, tying fellow Connecticut graduate Diana Taurasi’s league record.
"We needed every one of them," coach Cheryl Reeve said of Moore’s point total.
Indeed, the Lynx (18-6) blew a 14-point lead and trailed by as many as six. At the end of both regulation and the first overtime, they coughed up costly turnovers that gave the Dream (15-7) a chance to put them away.
But Moore wasn’t letting this one flee Minnesota’s grasp.
"I just knew that the one way that I could hurt my team, really, was thinking too much," Moore said. "If it’s my shot, if I’m open, shoot it. If it’s not, dish it off. It’s really simple."
After Moore scored 23 points in the first half alone, interim Atlanta coach Karleen Thompson — filling in for head man Michael Cooper, who’s taken a leave of absence to deal with early-stage tongue cancer — switched up her defensive schemes to put more emphasis on the two-time All-Star starter. Seimone Augustus missed her eighth straight game and ninth overall with left-knee bursitis, making it even easier for the Dream to focus on Moore.
Moore scored just two points in the fourth quarter.
But when regulation ended with the score knotted at 89, the 2013 WNBA Finals MVP turned the clutch dial back up to 11. In the two extra periods, she went 3-for-4 from the field for eight points and helped keep Dream star Angel McCoughtry in check at the other end of the floor.
The final massacre inflicted by Moore: 16-for-30 shooting, 7-of-9 from 3-point range, 9-for-11 from the foul stripe, 10 rebounds, four assists and two steals. Her one block kept Erika DeSouza from converting a buzzer-beating putback at the end of regulation.
It all had Reeve hailing Moore as the league’s best player, bar none.
"She has the full attention (of opposing defenses); they’re not trying to let her drop 48 on their heads," Reeve said. "That’s what I say has been impressive, and that’s why, for me, it’s hands-down who the MVP is in this league.
"In my opinion, there’s no one close. . . . It’s crazy how good she’s been."
Coming into Tuesday’s 2011 and 2013 finals rehashing — Atlanta (15-7) won the teams’ first bout this season 85-82 on June 13 — Moore led the league in scoring (24.1 points per game) and minutes per game (35). She also ranked fifth in steals (two per game), sixth in free-throw accuracy (87.7 percent), eighth in rebounding (8.3 boards per game), 14th in blocks (0.87 per game) and 15th in field-goal percentage (48.6).
Shortly after scoring a Lynx-best 24 points in Saturday’s WNBA All-Star game, she earned her third Western Conference player of the week honors of the season and eighth of her career.
But Moore wasn’t the only showstopper Tuesday in front of a crowd of 9,332, many of whom came out to see Native American rookie phenom Schimmel on Minnesota’s Native American Heritage Night. Coming off a record-breaking All-Star Game performance herself, Schimmel scored 17 points and made 5 of 13 3-point attempts to keep the Dream within striking distance.
Sancho Lyttle added 26 points, Tiffany Hayes had 22, and McCoughtry chipped in 21. The Eastern Conference-leading Dream, one of only three WNBA teams with a winning record alongside Minnesota and Phoenix, put together an 18-4 run during the final 6:15 of regulation. Hayes’ driving layup with 1 minute, 15 seconds remaining eventually sent the game to an extra session, and de Souza’s layup at the first overtime’s 52.1-second mark forged another.
Then the Lynx’s slumbering giant awoke.
Playing her first game this summer after preseason knee surgery, power forward Rebekkah Brunson’s strongest presence came early. But her 3-point play to start the second overtime sent a ripple of renewed energy throughout the Target Center; Minnesota never trailed after that.
"I felt good," said Brunson, who finished with a 17-point, 12-rebound double-double. "I was gonna give it all I had. If I used it up, then I used it up."
She played 35 minutes in her first game since Game 3 of last year’s WNBA Finals. "That was not the plan," Brunson grinned. Lindsay Whalen (26 points) played 45 apiece, and fellow starters Janel McCarville and Monica Wright also spent 35 minutes on the floor. All of them were gassed when the final buzzer finally sounded.
But fortunately for them, they have a gal named Maya Moore wearing a Mayo Clinic-sponsored jersey.
And afterward, the former Atlanta prep star felt she could’ve done even better. Reeve pointed out she missed a pair of free throws and an easy layup. Had those gone in, Reeve ribbed her, the league record would’ve been hers.
"She’s fun," smiled Moore, who couldn’t remember scoring more than 48 anywhere except during professional play in China. "We’re still hungry. I’m still hungry to get better."