After the game, after the Lynx had overcome some tough shooting and a slow start to grab a crucial comeback win, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve sounded like Tuesday’s 85-82 victory over the New York Liberty at Target Center was perhaps her favorite so far this season.
Not because it was easy, but because it was hard.
The Lynx have had some clunkers this season. Too often they ended in losses. Not Tuesday. Maya Moore hit five of six free throws in the final 13.9 seconds to hold off the Liberty on a night when Reeve pushed her starters to the limit.
“I loved the win,’’ Reeve said. “Because we had to respond. And that’s what I’ve been waiting for from our team. This is one of those games where you say, ‘We needed to win this way.’ I’m glad we were able to get it done.’’
The Lynx head into the All-Star Game, which will be held Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Target Center, at 15-10 and on a three-game winning streak.
They are tied for third in the league with nine games remaining, 3½ games behind league-leading Seattle (19-7), a game behind second place Atlanta (16-9) and tied with Phoenix. Los Angeles is lurking just a half-game behind in fifth. The top two teams receive a double-bye into the WNBA playoff semifinals,
Against a somewhat surprising Liberty zone defense — one New York played most of the night — Lynx center Sylvia Fowles had 27 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks. All five Lynx starters were in double figures, with Seimone Augustus scoring 14 and Moore 12. Lindsay Whalen and Rebekkah Brunson had 10 each.
In a battle of the bigs, New York’s Tina Charles had 32 points and 15 rebounds.
It took everything the Lynx had to top her. The Lynx trailed by eight after a quarter and were down four at the half, having allowed the Liberty 50 points, 50-percent shooting and an edge on the boards.
But Minnesota responded, holding the Liberty to 32 second-half points and 33.3 percent shooting while besting New York on the boards. Minnesota ended up with a season-high 17 offensive rebounds and had a 20-11 edge on second-chance points.
“It took a lot,’’ said Brunson, one of four starters who played the entire fourth quarter. “But that’s how it’s done. We don’t come in nightly and blow teams out. We do the small things when it comes down to it.’’
They did Tuesday. The score was tied 80-80 after former Gophers star Amanda Zahui B hit her third three-pointer of the night with 42.7 seconds left.
At that point Moore — 3-for-14 up to that point — took over. She missed a shot, got her own rebound, was fouled and made both free throws with 13.9 seconds left. After Fowles blocked Sugar Rodgers’ shot, Moore was fouled and made one of two with 6.5 left. Charles hit two free throws with 3.8 seconds left. But Moore sealed the deal with two of her own moments later.
“I’m proud of the way we dug deep,’’ Moore said. “We were able to overcome, despite missing shots, despite not having defensive coverages at times.’’
Fowles attacked the zone effectively, but the Liberty responded by simply surrounding her with more players. As the game progressed, others had to score. Enter Augustus, more aggressive in recent games. She and Moore each had eight second-half points.
Before the game, with the All-Star break coming, Reeve said she would do whatever it took to win. Tuesday, with the bench struggling with the Liberty zone, that meant playing her starters for the entire fourth quarter. Fowles played nearly 38 minutes, Brunson nearly 36, Moore nearly 33.
But everyone responded.
“This is good,’’ Moore said. “If this happens again, we have something to draw on. To know what it takes, to know we can do it.’’