MINNEAPOLIS — Just five years in the league and Maya Moore is already among the all-time greats. Yes, five years as a professional basketball player and Maya Moore is one of the best to ever grace the court.
She added to her legend Wednesday night, winning her third WNBA title. And she did so in what will certainly go down as one of the best WNBA Finals in the league’s history.
Moore averaged 19 points in the series and left her fingerprints all over. Simply put, Moore’s play was as much dominant as it was calculated.
First, there was Game 1, where Moore scored 27 points in front of a packed Target Center crowd but Indiana was able to edge out Minnesota and take a 1-0 series lead. The former league MVP responded with what her teammates described as one of her “smartest” performances of her career.
When her shot wasn’t falling in the first half, Moore found other ways to contribute in Game 2. She crashed the boards. She ramped up her defensive intensity. She picked her spots and found her teammates for crucial buckets.
And when it mattered most, she delivered.
Then there was Game 3. The moment doesn’t have a catchy moniker at this point, but it’s sure to garner one over time. The Shot. The No Doubter. It was the moment that encapsulates what makes Moore so special.
Struggling with foul trouble nearly all night, Moore returned to the court to begin the fourth quarter and poured in five quick points and forced an Indiana timeout. At the time, it seemed as if Minnesota was poised to run away with Game 3.
But Indiana charged back, traded blows with Minnesota and with 1.7 left on the clock and the score knotted at 77, the Lynx called a timeout to set up a play to try and win the game.
Lindsay Whalen briefly faked the inbounds pass towards the basket, causing Fever guard Shenise Johnson to turn her head and take a step back. That little fake gave Whalen the space to deliver a pinpoint pass to Moore, who had managed to create some space between her defender.
Moore corralled the pass, used an escape dribble to get Fever forward Marissa Coleman off-balance and rose into a three-point jumper. 1.7 seconds was all it took to create one of the most memorable shots in WNBA Finals history.
The bucket set up a series-clinching scenario in Game 4, on the road in Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Indiana responded by doing what it had already done four times in the postseason: stave off elimination. And that set the stage for a decisive Game 5 — the first since 2009 when the Mercury knocked off the Fever.
Moore struggled from the floor early, but her teammates and a combination of solid defense and a turnover-plagued first half was enough to give Minnesota a six-point halftime lead.
From there, Minnesota surged. Four quick points out of halftime forced Indiana to call a timeout and try to regroup, but the 10-point deficit was too much for Indiana to overcome. Minnesota kept the momentum and had the Fever on the ropes by the start of the fourth quarter.
“It was so rewarding to watch my teammates step up and hit shots,” Moore said of Game 5. “Seimone was unbelievable. She was vintage Seimone. She was like a video game out there the way she was just attacking. Sylvia was just so clutch for us, the heart and soul of those big moments, where if we needed something, we know we could count on Syl. And Brunson just playing her heart out, getting loose balls, running around. Bench players stepping up and making big plays.”
Despite a poor shooting performance in the clincher, Moore was a dominant figure in the series. The game-winner. The stifling defense. The composure down the stretch when plenty of players would have been rattled.
This was Maya Moore’s series. Well, playoffs, really. She averaged 25.1 points in the playoffs, but her impact was felt all across the box score. From big rebounds to crucial defensive possessions, Moore set the tone for Minnesota all season long.
And now, she has a third WNBA championship to show for it. The third one, according to Maya, is perhaps the sweetest one yet.
“I think that was our biggest struggle of trying to get over our perfectionism,” Moore said, “and just pushing through and not quitting and not giving up and bouncing back, play after play, game after game. That was the definition of this series of just trying to bounce back. We win, they win. We win, they win. We win. So it’s just really sweet to win this way.”
Moore still has a lot left in the tank with this being only her fifth year in the league, but her career accomplishments already put her in a short list with the all-time greats.
She’s helped guide the Lynx to three championships, something only the Phoenix Mercury, Detroit Shock (three in six years), Houston Comets (first four WNBA titles) can claim.
The Lynx dynasty and Moore’s legacy are still being sculpted, but they are already masterpieces to be marveled. Wednesday’s win just further cements Moore’s name among the best to ever play the game.
And the best is perhaps yet to come.