As the regular season wound down, things were coming together for the Lynx.
A top-two playoff spot was assured and coach Cheryl Reeve knew Lindsay Whalen’s broken hand would heal in time for the playoffs. But Reeve wasn’t happy.
The team was too dependent on center Sylvia Fowles, who was being besieged by defenders. The offense was out of sync.
“As a team, we wanted to create more opportunities,” Reeve said. “We didn’t think we were as balanced as we want to be. Maya was kind of on the forefront of that.”
That would be Maya Moore. Over the arc of the season Moore, the WNBA’s MVP in 2014, had been effective. But, compared with her career arc, it had been a modest year and Reeve wanted more. Or is that Moore?
She’s getting it.
Tuesday night at Williams Arena, the Lynx (27-7) will host the Washington Mystics (20-16) in the first game of the best-of-five semifinals. The Lynx enter the game having won five of their final six regular-season games, with Moore playing her best basketball of the season.
“She’s found her rhythm for us,” said forward Rebekkah Brunson. “She’s doing some great things. I think she’s definitely prepared to go into the playoffs and make a statement.”
Over her past seven games Moore is averaging 20.1 points. Over the final three regular-season games — as the Lynx drove to the top playoff seed — she shot 52.3 percent overall and 56.3 on three-pointers, while averaging 3.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 21.3 points.
Moore is not one to delve into public self-assessment, but after practice Sunday she said she felt as good as she’s felt, physically, all season.
“This is a good place to be in,” she said. “Where I have a good rhythm. I understand how hard the playoffs are going to be. I’ll try to stay on this path, with all the details, all the work done before the shot, all the things the coaches helped me with. After that it’s just muscle memory.”
Ah, memory. From the start of training camp in the spring, the memory of how the 2016 season ended has been a motivating force — the last-minute, Game 5 loss at home to the Los Angeles Sparks.
The process of excising that memory begins Tuesday.
What does it mean to Reeve, knowing she has a potential MVP in Fowles, and a former MVP in Moore again playing to that level?
“As a staff, we were feeling like, for us to be the best team, some things had to happen,” Reeve said. “And one of those things was we need Maya that’s playing like this. We can’t do it with just Syl; when they sit and double- and triple-team her, then what?”
So the coaches set about getting Moore back to that level. Reeve said she didn’t talk with Moore about it. Instead, they shifted emphasis in practices. They stressed getting open no matter the defense, stressed the kinds of shots Moore should be seeking.
“We made a change in the skill part of practice,” Reeve said. “As far as who she was working with, what she was doing in the skill workouts. I have input on what they work on. I made sure I kept my thumb on it.”
Reeve started seeing the fruits of that labor in a loss at New York on Aug. 20. Moore scored 22 points, hit half of her eight three-pointers and grabbed six rebounds. She was getting to better spots; Reeve remembers thinking, “That’s Maya.”
After that night, the Lynx went 5-1 and clinched the top seed.
“I think I’ve just gotten more energy, more bounce in my step, finding a nice rhythm,” Moore said. “It’s great to have that good feel. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, other than Christmas.”
To Reeve, Moore is an instinctual player, not a programmed one. That might be a fancy way of saying she is at her best thinking less and reacting more. Reeve remembers Moore coming back to the bench during the New York game after a good stretch saying, “I just shot it, I didn’t think.”
Said Reeve: “And we said, ‘Right, stop thinking and just play.’ I think she has entered that zone, throwing caution to the wind and just playing.”
As is usually the case with Moore, her timing couldn’t be better.