Less than 20 seconds remained in Tuesday's game with New York. It was tied. A crucial game teetered on a sharp edge when Maya Moore, 3-for-14 so far that night, calmly took a 20-foot jumper.
If you were looking for the perfect narrative for a player about to take part in the WNBA All-Star Game on her home court, the leading vote-getter in the league, Moore would have risen, shot, and the ball would have swished through the net, the crowd of 9,830 roaring.
But this hasn't been that kind of season.
Any Lynx fans knows that. A team that has been so dominant for so long has had its ups and downs. A 3-6 start, a seven-game winning streak. Big victories over WNBA contenders, head-scratching losses against teams sinking to the bottom. But, with nine games remaining, the Lynx are right there, alone in third in the standings, 3½ games behind leader Seattle but just a game behind second-place Atlanta.
But back to Tuesday's game.
Moore dodged a defender, hustled and gathered in her own miss, was fouled and made both free throws with 13.9 seconds left. Moments later she made one of two with 6.5 seconds left. Ultimately she iced the 85-82 victory with two more free throws with 3.2 seconds left.
In a way, this was classic Moore. On a night when her shot wasn't falling, really, at all, she still pushed her team to victory. Her defense, all night, was intense, her will manifest. She had seven rebounds, four on the offensive end and she scored her team's final five points.
Moore's season has mirrored her team's. She is still in the top 10 in scoring (18.2). Among WNBA forwards, she is third in scoring, eighth in assists (2.5) and sixth in free throws made (3.3 per game). But her scoring is down and her shooting percentage is a career low. She has topped 30 points twice and scored 20 or more in every game of that seven-game winning streak. But she has also has had nights like Tuesday, when shots just wouldn't fall.
But her chin has never dropped. In the face of stretches that would have sent many players in a spiral of self-doubt, Moore has continued to work, to defend, to shoot, knowing all along there is a light at the end of every tunnel.
"With me it's all about focus and belief," Moore said. "Belief that you're doing the right things, staying in the moment. I have never defined myself as only a scorer. There are other ways to get going, other ways to help the team, other ways I can celebrate what I'm doing."
Saturday she will play in her sixth All-Star Game, looking to win MVP honors for the third time.
Feeling their way around
Moore's confidence isn't surprising. All she's done is succeed, really, her whole life. There's no need to repeat her litany of championships from high school on. She's a winner, we know that. But it hasn't always been easy this season.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve sees a player — and a team — swimming uncharted waters. Frankly, the dynamic of the team has changed as time moves inexorably forward. The Lynx are getting less from the point guard position. Reeve is still working with a remade bench in a season, compressed because of this fall's world championships, that has allowed precious few practices.
Reeve said last year carried similar challenges — look and you'll see Moore's numbers are strikingly similar to 2017 — but much of that was hidden by Sylvia Fowles' breakthrough MVP season.
"We had Syl as a big old Band-Aid," Reeve said of Fowles, whose offensive game took a quantum leap in 2017. "We just kept winning. Syl has not been as much of a Band-Aid this year, because we're not catching anyone by surprise with what we're doing with Syl."
Seimone Augustus has stepped up her aggressiveness as the season has progressed.
Moore has had to find her place in a new dynamic.
"Maya has always been one who plays by the feel of the team," Reeve said. "When I say feel, they're great. They love each other like sisters. It's not that. It's more of, we're all trying to navigate this different look, feel. [Lindsay] Whalen remains our leader. On the court it's just different. Everyone is forced to do a little more."
'Not overthinking things'
Fans will have a much better idea of where the Lynx are going after the All-Star Game break. The Lynx play at Los Angeles and Seattle on back-to-back nights Thursday and Friday, then host Atlanta on Aug 5.
Reeve said she's seeing positive signs.
Like last week in Phoenix. Against a good Phoenix team in front of nearly 11,500 fans, it was an intense game; Mercury star Diana Taurasi was tossed from the game, as were two extra-partisan fans. But, as she always is in the tightest times, Moore was at her most focused. She scored 38 points, pushing her team to victory.
"The Maya we saw in Phoenix was fun," Reeve said. "The energy, the passion, just willing us. She was all that, on a night when Syl was more neutralized."
Two nights later, at home against New York, Reeve saw the same player. The energy, the will. And if her shot wasn't falling?
"So active," Reeve said. "Good defensively. She was everything but the ball going in the basket. I want Maya to keep playing like that. Fighting, fighting, fighting. Shoot when you're open, be Maya Moore, and we'll live with whatever happens."
Reeve will admit to seeing some frustration in Moore over the course of the season, but Moore isn't cracking.
"I'm getting into good shots," Moore said. "I'm active, and moving. I'm continuing to work to make sure I'm getting into those spots. I'm not overthinking things."
And she'll enjoy her weekend. Moore was the top vote-getter but declined her captain status. After the victory over New York she was coy when asked whether she was asked to take part in the three-point shooting contest. The sense is Moore is keeping focused while enjoying the break. The team will need her coming out of it and she wants to be ready.