Timberwolves fans have set franchise records for purchasing season tickets this week. Their team hasn't made the playoffs in a decade, but they are excited about one incoming player who has produced one disappointing college season, and another who did not make his college team's starting five.

Sunday afternoon, Target Center was less than full when the home team fell behind by 13 points in the first quarter. Then Lindsay Whalen, the great point guard from Hutchinson, started a comeback, and Maya Moore, the greatest female player in the world, accelerated it, and Seimone Augustus, one of the great scorers in recent history, served as the closer in an 82-77 victory over the best team in the WNBA.

Whalen leapt around the court during the game. Her coaches say they look for "The Whalen Face" in big moments. Sunday, she offered a dozen new expressions while proving she is the toughest basketball player of any age or gender in town.

Moore shook off five straight quarters of offensive struggles to finish with 32 points, nine rebounds, three steals and two assists.

Augustus hit the biggest shots in the fourth quarter as Target Center grew rock-concert loud.

Not that the joint was packed. The lower bowl was fairly full, and the upper deck was cordoned off, as usual.

Jim Petersen is the foremost hoops guru in our state. He played at the University of Minnesota, then in the NBA. He is the color analyst on Timberwolves broadcasts, and an assistant coach with the Lynx.

He was as close as he gets to speechless after Sunday's game.

"The people in this town who are missing seeing these great players are going to be like all of those basketball fans who missed the great players in the ABA," Petersen said. "Was that league great every night? No. But it gave you a chance to see Dr. J [Julius Erving] in his prime, and the Iceman [George Gervin] and Artis Gilmore. That's what people are missing here. People who missed those ABA games are probably still kicking themselves, and a lot of people around here will be one day, too."

After three years of relentless excellence, three years of winning titles together and for their country and at various stops in Europe and Asia, Augustus, Whalen and Moore were given the option on Sunday afternoon to take a rare early vacation. They declined.

Playing what appears to be a superior team, the Lynx faced a 13-point deficit early. With less reliable depth than they had on their previous WNBA championship teams, the three Olympians scored all of the Lynx's points in the first half and 72 in total.

"It's a credit to their leadership, and Whalen in particular," Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said. "Lindsay has just been so important to us. I think she's gone to another level. Her leadership is at an all-time high on both sides of the ball. She's willing us to do things, and she's holding people accountable, and she herself is playing great."

Whalen is 32. She has spoken about the difficulties of life as a women's star, playing in Europe and American and for Team USA. Augustus is 30, and Moore is, remarkably, just 25.

I asked Augustus if the three have talked about how much longer they have together, and she rolled her eyes, saying, "Please don't ask that question. … People treat 30 like it's 65."

The question was not based on age but on the fragility of such alliances. Whalen could retire. One injury or front office decision could break up the group, or limit the chances of winning together again.

Remember, Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer were supposed to retire together while showing off their World Series rings in a ceremony at Target Field in 2025.

The question didn't contain ageism; it contained trepidation. Sports teams plan; sports gods laugh.

Augustus, Moore and Whalen form the most accomplished and uplifting trio of basketball players we've seen in this town since … ever?

Sunday, they played as if they don't want any of this to end, not this playoff run, not the loud days and nights at Target Center, not the championship bond that led to those long hugs at midcourt after they had won together again.

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. @SouhanStribjsouhan@startribune.com