Moore for the taking: MVP unstoppable again in Lynx playoff win

Lynx forward Maya Moore receives her WNBA MVP award prior to Game 1 of a WNBA basketball Western Conference semifinal against San Antonio on Thursday.

Stacy Bengs/AP

MINNEAPOLIS — No one can compete with Maya Moore.

The only one who stands a chance doesn’t play for Phoenix, Atlanta or Los Angeles. She wasn’t wearing a matching Connecticut jersey on Geno Auriemma’s super-teams of the late 2000s.

Yet Moore has never been able to elude her greatest nemesis. She’s there when Moore goes to bed at night and when she wakes up in the morning. She’s across the breakfast table when Moore makes sure to down a natural-based, healthy meal to start the day, and she’s there when she shows up for practice at the Target Center’s Lifetime Fitness practice facility.

Since her mother first tacked a hoop on their Jefferson City, Mo., apartment door and handed 3-year-old Maya a miniature basketball, her fiercest rival has been herself.

"It’s not necessarily about outworking the person standing across from me," Moore said. "It’s outworking that voice inside of my mind that says, ‘I’m too tired. I don’t feel like doing this. I can settle.’"

Said her mother, Kathryn Moore: "When you’re a perfectionist, you’re always challenging yourself to do better — not even if it’s against someone else, just to do your absolute best.

Lynx 88, Stars 84

"She’s always been that way."

It’s rendered Maya Moore the star player on state, national, international and WNBA championship teams. It’s carried her to status as a worldwide women’s hoops icon.

And it’s the reason WNBA commissioner Laurel J. Richie handed her the WNBA MVP trophy before Thursday’s playoff opener against San Antonio.

"I’ve always tried to give everything that I can in every situation," Moore said in her acceptance speech, "whether it’s a small drill at practice or whether it’s double-overtime in front of our Target Center fans." (See Moore’s franchise-record 48 points in the Lynx’s July 22 victory over Atlanta for details).

That’s been Moore’s mantra since a childhood that took her from the Midwest to the Deep South. It then followed her from Collins Hill (Ga.) High School to UConn to Minneapolis to London to China and back again.

But this year, it bore fruit like never before.

"You came back on a mission," Richie told Moore while presenting the first MVP award in Lynx history.

An injury-riddled roster couldn’t keep Minnesota from securing a league-record fourth straight 25-win season. Moore surely didn’t do it on her lonesome, but if not for her stunning efficiency and production in all phases, knee injuries to Monica Wright, Devereaux Peters, Rebekkah Brunson and Seimone Augustus would’ve been much more difficult to overcome. Even coach Cheryl Reeve was out of commission before the season started to have a tumor removed from her back.

"Everybody was going through injuries," Moore said. "It was crazy, one person after the other."

With Reeve and her roster fully healthy entering the postseason, thanks in large part to Moore’s MVP campaign, those ailments seem like a distant memory.

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A league-best (third all-time) 23.9 points per game. An unprecedented 12 30-point games. Double figures in every single contest, the first time that’s been done in the WNBA’s 18 years of existence. Top-10 league rankings in rebounding, field-goal percentage, free-throw shooting and steals.

All while playing a demanding 34.7 minutes per game with opposing scouting reports centered on her.

"I’m pleased that it wasn’t a close race," Reeve said of Moore, who received 35 of 38 possible first-place votes from the national media panel in charge of determining the MVP. "It was obvious. I’ve seen some prolific performances offensively, but I haven’t seen 12 of them. And two of those 12 are 40 or more. I haven’t seen anything like it."

Neither had Richie, who reiterated Tulsa coach Fred Williams’ thoughts from earlier this season calling Moore the WNBA’s Michael Jordan.

"She’s amazing," the commissioner said. "There are some elements of her game that you look and say ‘that is very Jordanesque.’"

The shoe fits. Moore grew up idolizing MJ and has a shoe endorsement from his Nike Jordan brand.

The 2013 WNBA Finals MVP and 2011 rookie of the year didn’t wait long to vindicate the voters again Thursday night.

Moore’s play-of-the-year-caliber, one-handed finish of a no-look, underhand pass from point guard Lindsay Whalen capped a 10-2 run and gave Minnesota, the West’s No. 2 seed, a 22-12 first-quarter advantage. After an 18-2 Stars run negated a 15-point Lynx lead in the fourth quarter, Moore turned the tide with a layup at one end and a swat of Kayla McBride at the other.

Then Seimone Augustus closed up shop with three straight mid-range jumpers from the left side of the basket. Moore scored the last of her game-high 26 points with 1.3 seconds left to officially seal the 88-84 victory and give Minnesota a chance to eliminate San Antonio at 6 p.m. on the road Saturday.

"Just living in the moment," Moore said. "Trying to enjoy the moment as much as possible and appreciating where we are and where I am, but at the end of the day, we’re here to play basketball, so just switching it back to focusing on the game. Hopefully, it can be even easier now that some of the excitement’s over."

Because with Maya, it’s never about what’s been achieved. It’s about what’s next.

"Her namesake really fits her," Reeve said. "She wants more."

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