Sitting back in her chair, her joints encased in ice, Maya Moore smiled.
“I’m just thankful,” she said. “Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t.’’
Moore, the Lynx star, is as adept with understatement as she is with a crossover dribble. Because Tuesday night at Target Center, in a two-overtime thriller against Atlanta, they went in.
In a 112-108 Lynx victory, in a game that looked, at times, as physical as a rugby match, Moore scored 48 points. Against a team determined not to give her anything easy, Moore took the hard way: She burst off picks, created space on her own, ran the floor, piggybacked her team through some difficult stretches, Moore hit 16 of 30 shots, seven of nine on three-pointers, went 9-for-11 from the free-throw line and had 10 rebounds and four assists while scoring 30 or more points for the 10th time this season.
It was the biggest single-game total in franchise history, eclipsing Katie Smith’s 46-point performance in 2001. It was the second-highest total in WNBA history behind Riquna Williams’ 51 points for Tulsa last season.
And, as Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said: “We needed every single one of them. I just told her that. Every single one.’’
She’s right. Because, despite Moore’s heroics, despite getting 17 points and 12 rebounds from Rebekkah Brunson in her 2014 debut after preseason knee surgery, despite getting 26 points and nine assists from Lindsay Whalen, the Lynx needed a few miracles to win their fifth consecutive game.
And Moore supplied them.
She scored 10 points in the first quarter, 13 in the second, 15 in the third and five in the fourth. She scored five in the final OT. She got a key block on Atlanta center Erika de Souza at the end of regulation that forced the first overtime. She had a three-pointer after Atlanta scored the first six points in that first OT, then had a key assist to Brunson to start the second extra session that turned into a three-point play, giving the Lynx (18-6) the lead for good.
“That was the best one yet,” Brunson said of Moore’s game. “It’s unbelievable, but she’s very capable.’’
And, as Reeve said, the Lynx needed every one in a game when Minnesota allowed Atlanta (15-7) to score 50 points in the paint, 21 on the break, 21 off Minnesota’s 23 turnovers. Three Dream starters scored 21 or more, led by Sancho Lyttle (26), Tiffany Hayes (22) and Angel McCoughtry (21).
Indeed, down 14 points midway through the fourth quarter, the Dream went on a 20-6 run to end regulation and had two chances to win at the end, with Moore blocking the second one.
That run stretched to 26-6 when Hayes and McCoughtry hit back-to-back three-pointers to begin overtime. But Moore hit a three to stem the tide. Two Whalen free throws with 1:07 left gave the Lynx a two-point lead, but de Souza’s layup forced a second OT. In the second OT, Brunson’s three-point play and Tan White’s jumper gave the Lynx a quick five-point lead. The Dream whittled it to one, but Whalen and then White scored to ice the game.
“That’s probably one of the most entertaining games I’ve been a part of here in the Target Center,” Moore said. “I was feeling good, and I’m just glad it helped the team get a win and not a double-overtime loss.’’
Yeah, it helped. A little. After it was over Reeve joked that the two missed free throws and a missed layup cost Moore the all-time scoring record. But seriously: Moore has scored 30 or more 10 times in 24 games this season. Her next one will be a league record.
“It’s hands down who the MVP is in this league,” Reeve said. “There is nobody close.’’