WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve didn’t like the way Maya Moore was playing, so she benched her star forward for much of the fourth quarter and then put her back in the game at just the right time.
Moore went to the bench with five minutes left and didn’t return until the final minute, hitting the go-ahead three-pointer with 19.5 seconds left to lift the Lynx to a 78-72 victory over New York on Friday night, spoiling the Liberty’s first game in their new home, the Westchester County Center.
“I thought she was awful in the stretch when we subbed her out,” Reeve said. “She didn’t have legs and didn’t look good. ... Probably sat her longer than I ordinarily would. I had to resist very strongly not to put her back in because, you know it’s Maya Moore. We waited until exactly the right time.”
Moore, who finished with 20 points, 10 of them in the first quarter, agreed with her coach’s assessment.
“I wasn’t being tough enough to play defensively against a WNBA team,” Moore said. “Everyone is very talented and you have to be all out every minute. ... When she put me back in I was ready to go. I didn’t pout, stayed engaged.
With her team down 72-71 following a Tina Charles basket off the glass, Moore caught the ball at halfcourt out of a timeout, dribbled to the top of the key and swished her third three-pointer of the game in six attempts.
“That was plan ‘C,’ ” Moore said, laughing about her pullup three.
Kia Nurse tried to respond for New York (0-2), but she missed a jumper and the Lynx hit four free throws in the final 13 seconds to seal the win. Seimone Augustus scored 21 points to lead the Lynx (2-1). Sylvia Fowles had 15 points and 11 rebounds. Rebekkah Brunson, needing 10 points to reach 4,000 for her career, had only four points on 1-for-5 shooting, but she had nine rebounds.
Charles finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds for New York, which will play all but two games at the arena, which houses the Knicks’ G-League team. The County Center is configured to seat 2,319 fans for Liberty games with the option to expand it to about 4,500. The Liberty drew an average of just over 9,000 last year when they played at Madison Square Garden. Friday’s opener was a sellout.
“It’s different, but as a WNBA player we’re used to playing all over the world,” Moore said of the new venue. “As long as there’s two goals and a ball, we’re fine.
Glad we were able to open this location with a ‘W’ for us. It’s going to be a tough place to play for opponents to come in. Fans are on top of you and it’s louder.”
Among the crowd was Liberty owner James Dolan, who put the team up for sale over the winter but didn’t find a suitable buyer.
New York was trailing the defending champion Lynx 41-36 at the half before a strong third quarter, led by Nurse, gave the Liberty a four-point lead heading into the final period before Minnesota rallied.
The game also marked the home debut of coach Katie Smith, a former Lynx star, who took over as the Liberty head coach this season after a few years as an assistant.