This was the challenge Maya Moore wanted. And the challenge Cheryl Reeve thought she needed.
The Lynx forward showed off her two-way game, scoring a team-high 33 points and playing tight second-half defense on the reigning WNBA MVP, leading the Lynx to an up-and-down 87-82 victory over the Chicago Sky.
The game was broadcast nationally on ESPN2, largely because of Elena Delle Donne, Chicago’s marvelous 6-5 forward, against the defending WNBA champs.
“It was a great game for national TV,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. “Two marquee players on the big stage.”
Moore scored 13 points in the fourth quarter, helping the Lynx overcome a 68-61 deficit after three quarters, and battled Delle Donne for most of the second half. Delle Donne finished with a season-high 38 points, but only 13 after halftime.
“Maya was amped up for the challenge, and it got her going offensively, which was really important for us,” Reeve said.
Moore said she welcomed the opportunity to match up against one of the WNBA’s best.
“There are players that step up to that challenge, and I want to be like that,” Moore said. “I want to be dependable for my team and utilize the gifts that I have, defensively and offensively.”
The game itself was a seesaw battle as each team took turns winning a quarter. Chicago turned a 13-4 Lynx lead into a 30-24 advantage after one quarter. The Lynx, with Seimone Augustus breaking out of a recent slump, turned up the offensive pressure in the second quarter for a 52-51 halftime lead. Augustus scored 14 points in the first half and finished with 16.
“When Seimone plays like she did, it’s very important for us,” Reeve said. “What she did defensively was just as important for us as what she did offensively. She just looked really, really good in that first half.”
As the longest-tenured Lynx player, Augustus said she wasn’t worried about her personal stats. But, she added, it felt good to make a significant contribution.
“I felt good tonight,” she said. “The ball was finding me. I wanted to be aggressive, and it just worked out. Things go in spurts. Tonight was my night. The next night it will be Sylvia [Fowles], the next it will be [Rebekkah] Brunson. That’s the beauty of having a great team.”
While the Lynx superstars stood out, such players as Brunson and reserve center Janel McCarville made big plays when chances came along.
McCarville stood out without scoring with three rebounds, a blocked shot and a team-high six assists in just under 19 minutes of play. At least three of her assists were of the flashy variety, on no-look or behind-the-back passes.
“I’m still adjusting to being a backup, so I’m just trying to come in and give what I can give,” McCarville said.
Brunson, whose foul trouble led to McCarville’s increased court time, made two of the biggest plays of the game. She corralled a loose ball and fed Moore for a three-pointer with 55 seconds left and picked off a Chicago pass near midcourt and turned it into a layup in the game’s final seconds, sealing the victory.
“I just wanted to stay aggressive,” Brunson said. “It felt great to get the win. Delle Donne is a great player, but we’ve got some great ones here, too.
“I’m happy with what we could accomplish.”