Maya Moore’s turning point came in Seattle a month ago.
Look back at that game now and several things are impressive. That the Lynx, down 18 at one point, came back to win. That Minnesota outscored the Storm 22-11 in the final 10 minutes. But look at Moore’s line that night and you think, turning point? She made four of 14 shots and her her 11 points were her second-lowest total of the season.
But Moore said that might have been the first time she felt like herself.
“I felt good that game,” Moore said.
The numbers, of course, show this. Moore, who will start for the Western Conference team Saturday at the WNBA All Star game in Connecticut, has put herself back into the MVP race as she has helped the Lynx enter the break with the league’s best record. This despite injuries that have sidelined starters Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen that have caused some to wonder aloud whether the Lynx’s status as a title contender might be ending.
Moore averaged 15.8 points over her first eight games. Since then she has scored 20 or more in eight straight games, breaking her own franchise record, averaging 25.6 points per game.
And if injuries may sometimes push Moore to try to do too much — witness her 9-for-32 game Wednesday against Connecticut — a healthy Moore is the best reason for fans to think the Lynx will be OK until Augustus and Whalen return.
Even though not having her fellow All-Stars will make things more difficult.
“Life will be harder for her,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Teams will focus on her even more, knowing that, if you lock down Maya Moore, you increase your chance of being success. But that’s when you learn how good Maya is, in the face of that. She still finds ways.”
The most recent example came Sunday in Tulsa. Down seven at halftime and withoutWhalen, who’d left the game in the second quarter after getting poked in the eye, Moore went out and scored 30 second-half points — a franchise record — in Minnesota’s comeback win. Moore remembers a play early in the third quarter when she cut down the lane, took a perfect pass from Asjha Jones and scored. Everything felt right.
“I remember that feeling,” Moore said, snapping her fingers. She was on a rhythm. “After that we went on a run.’’
Early in the season Moore didn’t feel that way. As training camp began she was having a problem with her core muscles. There was soreness. Reeve remembers thinking Moore felt tired. Even during the USA Basketball camp in Las Vegas in May Reeve said she didn’t think Moore felt herself.
“I was working through some issues,” she said. “I wasn’t feeling as strong as I usually am. Thankfully, as the season went on it’s gotten better and better. ”
In the season’s first five games Moore averaged 17 points and shot 37.8 percent. In the next five she averaged 17 points and 43.7 percent. In the six games since those numbers rise to 26.8 points and 45.7 percent shooting. In that stretch she has shot nearly 46 percent, hit on 42.2 percent on three-pointers and averaged 8.5 rebounds and 4.7 assists.
When the season began it looked as if Chicago’s Elena Delle Donne would run away with the MVP race. But Moore has crept up. Entering the break she is second in the WNBA in scoring (20.7), less than four points behind Delle Donne.
Over the past six games Moore has topped the best numbers of her career in scoring, rebounds and assists. And the Lynx have needed all of it.
“In her mind she has to do that,” Reeve said. “There is the recognition of the injuries, that she has to be the one. I see that in her.”
A star in charge
There has been growth as a leader, too. Moore entered the league with a Lynx team full of leaders. But as she has grown — and other leaders have been sidelined — Moore is doing … more.
“I’ve been blessed to have awesome leadership training,” she said. “So when I got to the Lynx I was able to lead by example mainly. Now, if there is something that needs to be said, I’ll say it.’’
The Lynx are going to need it. The team is cautiously optimistic that Whalen will return after the break, but there are no guarantees. Augustus, recovering from knee surgery, will be out until at least mid-August.
Moore said she feels ready, both physically and mentally.
“I’m always looking to attack and be aggressive,” Moore said. “My teammates will continue to feed me. If we just be ourselves, I think we’ll come out ahead.”