Maya Moore recovers to spur Lynx's Game 1 playoff win
The Lynx and Maya Moore overcame a shaky start to finish strong in Friday's playoff win.
By PHIL ERVINFS North
MINNEAPOLIS -- With white rally towels waving,
Seattle scrapping, and the Target Center rocking, the Minnesota Lynx overcame whatever shortcomings arose Friday night to keep their opportunistic adversary at bay.
And that was before Maya Moore got going.
Even while their usual fire-starter struggled and the Storm kept hacking away, the Lynx didn't waiver during the testy, early stages of an 80-64, playoffs-commencing victory. Then Moore offered credence to her MVP candidacy, and Minnesota was well on the way to another home rout.
The Lynx pulled away in the third quarter to cap a first batch of WNBA playoff clashes where every other higher-seeded team fell. Having dropped all four of its regular-season contests against the team with the league's best record, Seattle came to the Twin Cities harboring similar aspirations.
They were alive and well through a half, especially with Moore going just 1-for-9 from the floor and scoring six points.
By the start of the fourth quarter, they lay shattered on the playoff-insignia-adorned hardwood in front of 8,832 rambunctious fans.
"It was a trend that were pretty focused on bucking," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said after her team took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Western Conference semifinals. "I told (my players) that before the game. I said, 'Big dummies. They're the home teams.' You've got to understand -- it was great fuel for us -- that it's not going to be easy."
A day after finishing second in MVP voting, Moore missed just one of her six field-goal attempts after halftime, slicing into the lane for lay-ins that had rolled off the rim previously and hitting a 3-pointer with 1.8 seconds left in the third quarter.
That followed a wide-open 3 from Monica Wright on the Lynx's last trip down the floor -- their first trey of the night and the most notable moment in a 31-15 run spanning the final two periods.
"You've got to work, work, work until you feel like you've got the moment where you broke them," Reeve said. "And recognize that you broke them and step on the jugular vein at that point. I thought we did a pretty good job of that."
Until that moment, pesky Seattle retained at least a glimmer of hope.
"I think that they're a team that they always have a little bit of air in their sails," power forward Rebekkah Brunson said.
The Storm hung around for two quarters, benefitting from several missed open shots and 10 points from guard Temeka Johnson, who finished with 14 to lead five Seattle players in double figures.
The Lynx built a 28-19 lead midway through the second quarter, but the Storm answered with an 11-4 jaunt. Johnson's fast-break layup through the heart of Minnesota' s defense with 1.2 seconds left in the second quarter made it 40-36 at halftime.
It also coaxed a stern talking-to from Reeve.
"I was really disappointed, especially the way we finished the half," Reeve said. "I just didn't think we had a lot of sense."
Guard Camille Wright spent a lot of time harassing Moore, forcing her to take off-balance jumpers rather than post up on the block and play the inside-outside game that made her so effective during the regular season's second half. Moore also missed a pair of contested layups that had her pumping her fists in frustration.
Not a characteristic sequence from the Lynx's top scorer.
"I think Maya was so amped up to play that she was just well ahead of herself," Reeve said. "She just needed to play with a little more poise and slow down.
"I just asked her to make shots."
The third-year phenom out of Connecticut fulfilled that request in the second half. More active defense fueled her transition offense, Moore said, and she benefited from a couple adept feeds from Wright and Devereaux Peters.
Right out of the halftime respite, Moore swooped between a pair of defenders for a far-stretching layup that set the tone for the entire final two periods.
"Dang; I've got to hit the next one," was the continual thought process for Moore, who wound up scoring 17 points and handing out a team-high six helpers. "It's the same approach every time. The type of shots that I'm getting, as long as it's within what we're trying to do or I'm being aggressive and taking the shots that come to me or making the reads I need to make, that's kind of how I evaluate."
Said Augustus: "We told her, 'Keep shooting.'"
Words of encouragement weren't the only aide Augustus provided.
Moore's fellow wing scored from all over the floor, finishing with a game-high 19 points. She made two transition buckets early in the third, the second of which gave Minnesota a 50-40 lead.
The Lynx didn't allow Seattle within less than eight the rest of the way.
"One of us is gonna have an off night at some point," Augustus said. "You would hope that all of us would be playing great basketball, but it happens. ... When Maya wasn't hitting, myself and everybody else just kind of upped their game until she was able to get on her scoring."
Brunson being Brunson was equally instrumental, especially early on as she scored 13 of her 18 points in the first half. She also pulled down nine rebounds and played the biggest part in a 44-32 Lynx points-in-the-paint advantage.
Minnesota's 24 points off 15 Seattle turnovers were just as helpful.
Brunson displayed aggression similar to her Western Conference semifinal showing against the Storm a year ago. In the Lynx's 2-1 series win, she shot 60.6 percent from the floor and averaged 16.7 points and 11.7 rebounds per game.
"You have to go out there and you have to elevate your game to another level," said Brunson, who added four assists to boot. "So I just try to go out there and set the tone immediately, and I know that my team is going to follow."
The Lynx fly to Washington on Saturday and will take on Seattle at 4 p.m. Sunday inside the Tacoma Dome -- a scheduling conflict arose at usual Storm venue KeyArena. If Seattle earns its first win in six tries against Minnesota this season, the teams will return to Minneapolis for a decisive Game 3 on Tuesday.
That's not part of the plan, Augustus said.
"It's a close-out situation," Augustus said. "We know they're gonna be hungry, and that situation, they lose or they go home."