Not surprisingly, Maya Moore welcomes the matchup.
Moore, the MVP of the 2013 WNBA Finals and of the 2014 regular season, was talking about the upcoming Finals against the Los Angeles Sparks. Specifically, the very good possibility she will match up with Sparks defender Alana Beard.
Beard is to the Sparks in many ways what Rebekkah Brunson is to the Lynx: a top defender almost always charged with covering the other team’s best player.
And Beard does it well. A part of the same 2004 draft class that brought Diana Taurasi, Lindsay Whalen and Brunson into the league, Beard — who was part of the Duke team Whalen and the Gophers beat to advance to the 2004 NCAA Final Four — has become a dominant defender on the perimeter.
“Really smart player,” Moore said. “She’s a vet. She’s been around. She’s seen it all. Obviously, when you’re in the Finals, you want to have the sense of, ‘If we lose we lose to someone better. If we win, we’re beating someone really, really great. And it’s exactly set up that way.”
The series, just the second rematch in Finals history, is certainly that way. And so, in a microcosm, is the Beard-Moore matchup.
In three regular-season matchups, two won by the Sparks, Moore was held in relative check. She shot 38.7 percent overall and averaged just 10.7 points, well below her season numbers.
Even late in the regular season, which Moore ended with a crescendo, there was that matchup. Over the final seven games of the season, Moore averaged 20.1 points and shot 50 percent overall and on three-pointers. But in that seven was a 4-for-11 (2-for-6 on three-pointers), 10-point effort in a loss in Los Angeles.
To win, the Lynx need the 6-foot Moore to score on the 5-11 Beard.
“If it does end up being Alana on Maya it is the must-see matchup of this Finals series,” ESPN analyst LaChina Robinson said.
“I mean, we saw what Alana was able to do to Diana Taurasi in stretches in the semifinals. We’ve watched her terrorize opponents with her defensive pressure. But Maya is arguably the best scorer in the game right now. Who wouldn’t want to see Maya vs. the best defensive player in the league?”
Some things have changed even in the short time since the two teams last met. Whalen is back, and playing well. Center Sylvia Fowles, after some up and down performances down the stretch, has returned to form in the playoffs. Seimone Augustus has dialed back the clock and dialed up the scoring.
All that will make it easier for Moore.
The game plans as well will presumably be designed around getting her free for shots.
But Beard will make it difficult.
“She’s got physical gifts, for sure,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “But players like that, it’s what they have on the inside. It’s their relentlessness, their drive, the passion for what they’re doing. To be a great defensive player, and knowing she is the identity of that team, in one of the most important aspects of that team? She embraces it. No question it’s a key matchup.”
Moore is relentless as well. A player who loves to use defense to get her offense going, she is also one of the Lynx’s best at moving without the ball. She can drive past someone playing too tightly on the perimeter, rise up and shoot over someone not closing out.
It’s a matchup to watch.
“[Beard]’s one of the most disruptive players with her activity on the ball,” Moore said.