MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Maya Moore and the Minnesota Lynx waltzed into the 2012 WNBA Finals ready for a coronation.
It was supposed to be the beginning of a dynasty, with the powerful Lynx sure to overwhelm heavy underdog Indiana for their second straight championship.
Tamika Catchings had other ideas.
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Catchings and the Fever took it to the defending champions, stunning them in Game 1 in Minnesota and taking the best-of-five series 3-1 for the franchise’s first championship.
Three years later, the two teams are meeting again. And this time, Moore said the Lynx will be ready for them.
”Coming into the finals that year, feeling like we weren’t as mentally tough as we needed to be,” Moore said. ”It was a great lesson for us. It’s just exciting for us to get back here and get another opportunity to be even better than we were, not just in 2012 but in any year we’ve been here.”
The Lynx are in the finals for the fourth time in five years. They rebounded after the 2012 disappointment to win their second title, but lost to Phoenix in the Western Conference finals last season to miss out on their fourth straight finals trip.
The Lynx swept the Mercury in the Western finals this season, but they have expressed little interest in the revenge angle that was brought up before that series and is resurfacing again this time around as the two teams prepare for Game 1 on Sunday in Minneapolis. It’s more about redemption for the Lynx, who don’t believe they gave the best accounting of themselves in that series against the Fever.
”I think it’s just easy to remember those feelings of feeling like we didn’t play up to the ability that we could,” Moore said. ”They totally fought and earned those wins. But wanting to end the season better than how we performed that year is something we can easily draw on as motivation.
”But I don’t think we even need that this year. We’re hungry. We’re playing hard and playing well and we understand what it takes by learning through our mistakes this year.”
The Fever enter the series on a roll themselves and with a similar chip on their collective shoulder. They beat the top-seeded Liberty in the Eastern Conference finals, coming back from 18 down in Game 2 to force a series-deciding Game 3 in New York that they won easily.
”We just have to believe in ourselves and not worry about what anyone else says,” Catchings said. ”We know what we’re capable of doing. If we play defense the way we’re capable of and on offense move the ball and everything’s clicking there’s no one who can beat us. It’s all about believing. Believe in the system and believe in your teammates.”
The Lynx dealt with injuries to key players for much of the season and entered the playoffs with the starting group of Moore, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen, Rebekkah Brunson and Sylvia Fowles having played a total of 52 minutes together in the regular season.
Moore suffered a broken nose late in the regular season while Augustus and Whalen each missed big chunks of times with injuries. Somehow, the Lynx still managed to post the best record in the West, and the homecourt advantage that came with it proved key in the first two series.
”My black eye’s gone, but it’s still there underneath,” Moore said. ”We’ve definitely been battle-tested, which is great.”
Catchings and the rugged Fever will test them some more. One of the greatest stars the league has ever seen said she is retiring after next season, so the sense of urgency has never been higher for her.
”It’s going to take a lot more than what we just did in the last two series,” Catchings said. ”Our focus needs to be a lot more fine-tuned. They got a lot of really good players. Getting down to the details and staying focused, stay in the moment. Every single possession matters.”
AP Basketball Writer Doug Feinberg in New York contributed to this report