LOS ANGELES — It was a game between two unbeaten teams with superstar talent all over the floor. In fact, just hours before the 12-0 Minnesota Lynx and 11-0 L.A Sparks tipped off the most highly anticipated regular season game in league history, the WNBA announced its Top 20@20 — a list of the 20 greatest and most influential players from the league’s first 20 seasons. Four of those players — L.A.’s Candace Parker and Minnesota’s Maya Moore, Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen — were on the Staples Center floor on Tuesday afternoon.
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But with the score tied at 69 with 7.5 seconds left to play, Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve did not draw up a play for one of her superstars. She couldn’t go to Moore, who missed the last seven minutes of the game with a thigh injury, but she could have gone with Augustus, Whalen or Sylvia Fowles. Instead she called on Renee Montgomery to take the biggest shot of the game.
Yes, that decision even surprised Montgomery.
“First of all, it’s crazy that coach even called my number after that shooting performance that I just put on,” said Montgomery, who had shot just 1-of-7 before Minnesota’s final possession. “I literally had missed three shots in a row — wide-open. So [Whalen] came around, I floated down to the baseline, I got a great screen from Sylvia and then look at God.”
Montgomery’s shot found nothing but net and put the Lynx up for good with 2.9 seconds remaining. The Lynx did survive a scare in the closing seconds as Kristi Toliver’s potential game-tying shot was ruled a two-point shot attempt rather than a three and video review showed she did not get it off in time.
With plenty of hype surrounding this historic game — the first between teams with at least 10 wins and no losses or ties ever in the WNBA, NBA, NFL, MLB or NHL — it lived up to its billing by providing plenty of drama in the form of 17 lead changes and 12 ties. Montgomery’s clutch shot broke the final tie of the game.
Montgomery recalled a conversation she had earlier this season with Lynx assistant coach Jim Petersen, who told her that the coaching staff trusted her to make big shots. And on Tuesday, they put their money where their mouth was.
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“In a game of this magnitude, there’s three other Olympians [Whalen, Augustus, Fowles] on the court, so it means a lot, just the confidence they showed in me, it makes you feel really good and it makes you want to make that shot,” Montgomery said. “Obviously, everyone wants to make that shot, but when the coach calls your number when there’s three other Olympians on the court, you’re like ‘Man I’ve got to make this shot.’ I just thank God that I did make it because this wasn’t my best shooting performance night to say the least.”
Montgomery plays with a shooter’s mentality, that if you’re open, you shoot your shot, even if you’ve missed your last few shots. But she admits that her confidence was a bit shaken after missing so many open looks on Tuesday prior to her game-winner.
“To miss shots is one thing, but I had literally, that quarter, two wide-open threes and you always wish you could get those back,” she said. “I want to get that three back and then to have an opportunity to get it back on the game-winner, it felt good.”
Montgomery and the Lynx won’t have much time to bask in this victory as they have a rematch with the Sparks on Friday night in Minnesota.
“We’re going to try to enjoy ourselves tonight and that’s about it because we’ve got them next.”