MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Phoenix Mercury did something in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals that no other WNBA team has been able to do all season long.
They stopped Maya Moore.
Pressuring her on the perimeter with DeWanna Bonner while Brittney Griner prowled the paint, Moore had nowhere to go. The league MVP was just 3 for 9 for nine points in the 85-71 loss in Phoenix, the first time all season Moore has been held to single-digits in scoring.
“I thought that Phoenix, in typical fashion, their team defense was really good,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said after the game. “So maybe where Maya had openings, they closed quickly and her recognition of what happens next was not very good.”
Moore missed five of her first six shots and had just two points at halftime while the Mercury raced out to a huge lead. With Moore continuing to struggle in the second half, the Lynx trailed by as many as 25 points in a dominant performance from Phoenix, which is one win away from the franchise’s fourth appearance in the WNBA Finals.
Watching Moore struggle was startling because it has so rarely happened this season. She scored at least 30 points in a game 12 times this season and topped 40 twice while unleashing a new and improved mid-range game that helped her win her first MVP award. But the versatility, the athleticism and the shot-making that the Lynx have leaned on all season was nowhere to be found in Game 1.
Game 2 is Sunday in Minnesota.
“I thought we executed quite well against her, playing her to space,” Mercury coach Sandy Bordello said. “If she makes shots, she has to make shots that are contested. We didn’t want to give her any separation.”
Moore did average 25 points per game against the Mercury in four regular-season games this year, so there is confidence that she can get back on track at home. And with Lindsay Whalen, Seimone Augustus and Rebekkah Brunson all there to help as well, the Lynx don’t believe Moore should shoulder so much of the scoring burden.
“We are a team that prides ourselves in being able to get offense from different players,” Brunson said. “It’s not always going to be Seimone’s night. It’s not always going to be Maya’s night. So we know those things can happen. But I think the biggest key to this game was the fact that when we couldn’t score, we allowed them to continue to score. We can’t do that.”
As much as the Lynx pride themselves on being bigger than any one player, there is no disputing the role that Moore played this season. She carried more of the responsibility than she ever has for a Lynx team that struggled with injuries to key players all season long, which is why she easily won the MVP award.
So if the Lynx are going to keep their hopes of repeating as champions alive, they realize they need more from Moore.
“We know we’re up against the championship team,” Mercury forward Penny Taylor said. “We know if we relax for a second, that they will be on top of us. I think the good thing is we have worked toward this all season. We have focused like this for every single game. We’ve had preparation from our coaches.
“We know what we need to do. Having said that, they are such a good team and we expect them to come back at full force.”
Associated Press freelance writer Al Bravo in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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