Maya Moore hasn’t failed at much in life, and this summer she has followed her high school, college and Olympic dominance with a season that might win her the WNBA Most Valuable Player Award.
Thursday night, though, she experienced one of those games that every great basketball player stumbles across once in a while. She couldn’t find her shot with a GPS. Not for three quarters. Not until she played, in the fourth quarter, as if the “Mayo Clinic” logo on the front of the Lynx’s jerseys was off by a letter.
The fourth quarter was a Maya Clinic.
For 30 minutes, she couldn’t have bought a basket if she had gotten Bill Gates to co-sign the loan. Then she checked another box on the MVP to-do list, dominating the best team in the league when her team needed her most.
If basketball is a game of runs, Moore started the fourth quarter like she was channeling Usain Bolt.
The Lynx had taken a one-point lead into the fourth. At that point, Moore was 3-for-13 from the field, and 0-for-2 from the three-point line.
The first time she touched the ball in the fourth, she converted a Tim Duncan-like bank shot.
“Anytime you can get something easy, close to the basket, in rhythm, it helps,” she said.
A couple of minutes later, she took a tap-pass after in-bounding the ball and hit an open three-pointer. Then she collapsed on Phoenix star center Brittney Griner for a steal, drew a foul on Phoenix’s Diana Taurasi, then hit another three.
By the end of that outburst, the Lynx led 64-52 on the way to a 75-67 victory. Moore’s final line: 20 points on 7-for-20 shooting, nine rebounds, four steals, three assists and a block.
Phoenix entered at 22-3, with a 16-game winning streak and a seven-game road winning streak. Minnesota, winner of two of the past three WNBA titles, entered at 20-6, with a seven-game winning streak and nine consecutive home victories.
Moore used a big game to show off her willingness to do the little things.
At the end of the first quarter, Lynx point guard Lindsay Whalen went to the hoop and got knocked to the floor. Moore was on the bench. She sprinted to help Whalen up, reaching her before the Lynx players on the floor.
When Phoenix cut the lead to 66-60 with less than four minutes remaining, Moore leapt over a few bodies near Phoenix’s bench to save a ball, then ripped a rebound from Taurasi’s hands.
With less than three minutes left, Phoenix cut the lead to 66-63.
On the next trip down the floor, Moore cut along the baseline, caught a pass, drew a foul and hit both shots.
After Griner hit two free throws to make it 71-67, Moore caught a pass on the wing, paused and swished a jumper to make it 73-67.
She had reached 20 points the hard way, helping the Lynx produce an encouraging victory against the team most capable of preventing yet another Minnesota title.
“I think it’s just doing what is necessary, for whatever the team needs,” Moore said. “For the majority of the season, I’ve had to step in and play some greater minutes, and with those minutes I’ve tried to be more productive. I want to make the most of each moment, and some of the work I’ve done in the offseason is showing up, and obviously, being on this awesome team, it makes me look good, too.”
Using whole numbers, Moore’s minutes per game have progressed in her four WNBA seasons from 13 to 16 to 19 to 24. Her minutes have increased from 28 to 30 to 31 to, this season, 35.
“It’s been fun to watch,” Whalen said. “She’s just taken her game to another level. Even before the shots started going in and the rebounding took a jump, she set the tone with her leadership in training camp. You could just feel her energy and want-to this year.”
Phoenix felt it, acutely, on Thursday night.
Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. Twitter: @SouhanStrib firstname.lastname@example.org