MINNEAPOLIS — After playing her worst game of the season, Maya Moore recovered to keep the Minnesota Lynx season alive.
The league’s MVP scored 13 of her 32 points in the fourth quarter as the Lynx avoided elimination by beating the Phoenix Mercury 82-77 in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals on Sunday.
Diana Taurasi scored 23 for the Mercury, who will host Game 3 on Tuesday night.
Phoenix jumped out to a 22-9 lead after the first quarter, and after a dominant showing in Game 1, the Mercury had the three-time defending Western Conference champions on the ropes. But Moore, who was held to nine points on 3-for-9 shooting in the opener, said she trusted the process that made her team the best in the league over her four-year career.
“We always believe in each other, and if we stick to what we’re doing, something’s eventually going to break,” Moore said. “Because we’re going to keep running it hard, trusting what we’re doing, with discipline.”
Tied at 75 with 23.3 seconds left, Seimone Augustus hit a 15-foot jumper and was fouled by DeWanna Bonner. Augustus, who finished with 23 points, converted the three-point play, and after Candice Dupree missed a 15-footer on the other end, Moore hit two free throws to put it out of reach for the Lynx.
Moore was an even bigger part of the comeback early in the fourth, as she hit three 3-pointers in a 13-0 Lynx run that gave them their first lead since they scored the first point of the game. Moore hit back-to-back 3’s to pull Minnesota to within 65-62, and after Tan White made two free throws, Augustus scored down low to put Minnesota on top.
Then, with Little League World Series sensation Mo’Ne Davis on hand cheering her on, Moore then drained her fifth 3-pointer of the game to send the sellout crowd into a frenzy.
“I think she had the mindset that she’s the best player in the league and that nobody can stop her,” Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve said of Moore’s dominant fourth quarter. “I think maybe she had a stretch in Game 1, not that she doubted that but she just didn’t play with the assertiveness that we’re accustomed to seeing.”
Fellow UConn graduate Taurasi also has grown accustomed to seeing Moore score at will.
“She made a lot of shots tonight and when she does that it’s pretty much impossible to guard her,” Taurasi said. “You pretty much put everyone on her, but you can’t do that because they’ve got Seimone, they’ve got Lindsay (Whalen).”
Minnesota dug itself an early hole and almost didn’t recover. The Lynx made just 2 of 14 field goal attempts in the first quarter as they fell behind 22-9 after 10 minutes.
But with Moore and Augustus struggling, Whalen put the Lynx on her back. Whalen scored 12 of her 17 points in the second quarter and hit five mid-range jump shots as Minnesota recovered its shooting touch to make 47 percent of its shots the rest of the way.
“It can be really demoralizing to be missing shot after shot after shot and scoring nine points in a quarter,” Reeve said. “We really needed to hang in there and not get our heads down. That’s a credit to leadership, a credit to Lindsay Whalen in particular.”
Phoenix got 18 points and nine rebounds from Dupree, while Brittney Griner scored in 14 and Erin Phillips chipped in 10 off the bench. And despite letting a 13-point lead slip away, Taurasi said the Mercury could take plenty of positives out of the loss.
“I think for 35 minutes we were pretty good today,” Taurasi said. “We’ll just do what we do every single game, same mindset. Everyone was fine in the locker room. No one was crying, so I think we’ll be ready.”