MINNEAPOLIS — Maya Moore stood alongside 15 of the 20 greatest players in WNBA history, applauding as they each received their WNBA Top 20@20 rings.
To her left was Teresa Weatherspoon, 50, author of the most famous shot in league history — perhaps just ahead of Moore’s game-winner in last year’s Finals. Alongside Weatherspoon were Tina Thompson, 41, and Sheryl Swoopes, 45, two stars of the Houston Comets teams that won the league’s first four titles.
Moore, 27, had temporarily paused her pursuit of her own fourth title to participate in the halftime ceremony honoring the group, which was announced in June as part of the WNBA’s 20th season celebration. She was the youngest lined up at center court, but already among the most decorated.
The 2014 WNBA MVP… began the public address announcer as Moore smiled, accepted her ring and hugged WNBA President Lisa Borders … this four-time All-Star has led Minnesota to three championships. Your very own, Maya Moore!
The Target Center crowd of more than 12,000 erupted in cheers, and Moore acknowledged the fans with a wave. Scoreless at the break, she would pour in 18 points in the second half. The 13th of those points made her the all-time leading scorer in WNBA Finals history, surpassing Diana Taurasi’s previous record mark of 262.
WNBA Finals Career Scoring Leaders
The last of those points tied Game 1 at 76 with 24.7 seconds left. The Target Center buzzed again in anticipation of another Lynx victory, and the afternoon seemed like another triumph for women’s basketball’s brightest star.
24.7 seconds later, Moore buried her head in her hands and staggered off the court. On the game’s final play, the Sparks’ Chelsea Gray had driven toward her and Moore had strayed too far off of Alana Beard in the right corner. Beard’s game-winning jump shot had been just out of Moore’s reach.
“We were trying to clog it up for the two that were in the main action (Gray and cutting forward Candace Parker),” Moore said in a morose Lynx locker room thirty minutes later. “I was just too far off of Beard and she knocked it in.”
She had just been informed of her WNBA Finals scoring record, but that had done nothing to soften the blow. Asked what the milestone meant to her, Moore simply vowed to be better in the next game. “I have to stay focused on what wins games,” she said. “We have to be more disciplined in Game 2.”
She wore the look of someone not used to such crushing defeat. This is a player who, in the 14 years since she began high school, had won 462 of the 534 games she’d played in the United States — not to mention her unblemished Olympic career and seven championships overseas. Maya Moore does not wear losing well.
But being a winner also means knowing how to bounce back from a loss, and Moore and the Lynx have plenty of experience with that. A year ago, the Fever stole Game 1 on this same floor to set the tone for an instant-classic five-game series. Many expect this series to play out in similar fashion.
“That’s what’s made this team special all these seasons,” Moore said, “is our ability to bounce back and do it together.”
Doing it together starts with the Lynx getting their superstar going from the jump. Minnesota head coach Cheryl Reeve and point guard Lindsay Whalen both said they saw a patient Moore in Game 1, feeling out L.A.’s defense before switching into attack mode.
After a scoreless first half, the Sparks knew that Maya was coming. “We talked about it at halftime,” said Sparks head coach Brian Agler. “Maya is going to really try to get it going in the second half.
“It’s not like we don’t think that’s going to happen. We know it’s going to happen.”
And after a last-second miscue, they can be even more certain that, yes, Maya is coming. On a night when she assumed her place among the league’s greats, that’s what this game reminded her: There’s still work to be done.