Though she makes the game of basketball look easy, Maya Moore has a natural aversion to anything effortless. The Lynx forward prefers to see what she and her team can do under the most difficult of circumstances, which is why she was so excited to fly to Phoenix on Saturday.
The Lynx can sweep the Mercury out of the WNBA semifinals with a victory in Sunday’s Game 3 at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Despite a pair of double-digit triumphs at Xcel Energy Center, they understand how tough it is to deliver the knockout blow — especially against an opponent as gritty and gifted as Phoenix. That said, Moore noted that the Lynx relish tests like the one they now face.
After starting the playoffs with four consecutive road games, the Mercury finally returns to its home arena, where it has gone 24-5 against Western Conference opponents in the past two seasons. The Lynx have had good success there in the playoffs, with three victories in five games. One more Sunday would lift them into the WNBA Finals, affording the opportunity to do something else that isn’t easy: becoming the first team to win consecutive WNBA titles since 2001-02.
“When you’re on the road, when you’ve got a lot to gain, we love those moments,” said Moore, who led the Lynx with 57 points in the first two games of the best-of-five series.
“We feel confident in who we are. We are so aware of how hard it’s going to be. And we’re excited to get down there and see what happens.”
So is coach Cheryl Reeve, who pointedly noted Friday that her team has been far from perfect. Though the Lynx scored 19 points off 20 Phoenix turnovers in Game 2 and came up with several big stops to preserve their lead in the second half, she remained unhappy with the defense.
Reeve measures her team by its regular-season performance, when it boasted the WNBA’s highest-ranked defense. It holds a 72-49 rebounding edge in the series, but the Mercury shot 54 percent in Game 1 and 45 percent in Game 2. Defense will be even more critical on the road, Reeve said, because of the energy Phoenix will have on its home court.
The Mercury pressured the Lynx more in Game 2, holding them to five baskets on 20 shots in the second quarter and 44 percent shooting overall. Reeve expects her team to counter with intelligence and discipline, with the goal of ending the series Sunday.
To prevent that from happening, Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said the Mercury must eliminate the lapses in composure that hurt it in the first two games. Her team also needs a stronger performance from center Brittney Griner. Though Griner had been playing extremely well since the Olympic break — averaging 17 points and 7.6 rebounds per game — she had only four rebounds in the series’ first two games. Friday, she got into early foul trouble and was limited to two points in 18 minutes.
Griner had an outstanding game against New York in the second round, with 22 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four blocks.
“I’ve been around her for a while, and the kid’s got a lot of heart,” Phoenix guard Diana Taurasi said of Griner. “[Friday], she just had one of those games. That happens.
“The way she reacts to it is going to tell us a lot about her. I have the utmost confidence she will come ready to play when we get home.”
Taurasi acknowledged that four consecutive road games have been tough on the Mercury. Still, she believes her team can make things difficult for the Lynx — which only heightens Moore’s anticipation.
“You just have to find a way to get it done and stay true to your identity,” Moore said. “For us, that’s being the best defensive team and the best offensive team. That’s our goal. That’s who we were during the regular season. And it’s a great, great challenge at this point in the year.’’