From the start, they’ve had to do it all: Play more, score more, lead more.
What else could Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen do? The Lynx started the 2014 WNBA season with championship expectations and a beat-up roster. Three of the team’s top seven players, coming off knee surgery, were out when the season began; Rebekkah Brunson won’t be back until next week. And All-Star Seimone Augustus, who wasn’t one of those three, has missed nearly a quarter of her team’s games because of knee bursitis.
So what did that mean?
Big minutes and big responsibilities for the two captains healthy enough to play every game from the beginning through Wednesday’s victory over Tulsa, which sent the Lynx into the All-Star Game break 17-6, the same record after 23 games as last year.
Moore and Whalen had to fill the void.
“More so than any other year,” Whalen said.
And, so far, they have. Both are scoring more than ever. Both are playing big minutes, expanding their game. And that’s why, despite the injuries and a brutal early-season schedule, the Lynx are knee-deep in the Western Conference playoff race.
And it’s why Moore and Whalen will be in Phoenix on Saturday for the All-Star Game.
The Lynx are still behind red-hot Phoenix in the battle for home court advantage in the conference playoffs. And while this season hasn’t seemed as easy as some previous ones — the Lynx spent basically three years in first place before ceding that position to Phoenix earlier this year — the team is poised, once healthy, to make another post-break run.
Moore is leading the league in scoring and has scored 30 or more points nine times, just one short of Diana Taurasi’s league-record. Moore has added even more to her arsenal, evolving from a catch-and-shoot specialist to a player who can play one-on-one, pick-and-roll and find ways to score even when an opponent is determined not to let her. She is eighth in the league in rebounding, fifth in steals.
Whalen? Ninth in the league in scoring, third in assists. Adept at knowing just what the Lynx need on any particular night. As coach Cheryl Reeve said, “Whalen wills her teams to wins.’
If Whalen is the team’s heart, Moore is the team’s go-to player.
Whatever means necessary
This is one of Reeve’s favorite sayings, and Whalen has adopted it as her personal credo. But what does it mean? Depends on the night. Or the situation.
“Every game we go into she knows she wants to set the tone, but it varies by game what exactly that means,” Reeve said.
Maybe it’s ball pressure to help the defense. Maybe it’s penetrating and kicking the ball out to her teammates. Maybe it’s going at the basket, hard, when the teams needs points.
“She is in tune to her team,” Moore said of Whalen. “And she has an innate sense of energy, momentum, runs, the feel of the game. She will pick it up with her energy when we’re down. If things are too rattled, she will calm it down. She knows.”
Recent examples: In a recent game with Los Angeles, the Lynx were struggling on the boards and trailed by three entering the fourth quarter. Whalen went out and led the team with four fourth-quarter rebounds, made both of her shots and had two assists as the Lynx won going away.