MINNEAPOLIS – On Oct. 9, 2015 – exactly one year prior to losing Game 1 of the 2016 Finals on a buzzer-beater by Alana Beard – the Minnesota Lynx beat the Indiana Fever in Game 3 of the 2015 Finals when Maya Moore knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key at the buzzer to put the Lynx up 2-1 in the series.
Considering there have only been three buzzer-beating game-winning shots in the history of the WNBA Finals, the Lynx are the only team to feel the tremendous elation and deflation that comes from such an amazing moment.
“I was thinking about that last night,” said Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve. “If you do it long enough it evens out. Even this year with Renee’s shot, you get one and you give one.”
While the first meeting of the season between these two teams didn’t have a championship on the line, there were bragging rights at stake in the battle of the unbeatens, which Minnesota won on a Renee Montgomery 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds left at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
On Sunday night, the Lynx found themselves on the other end of the emotional spectrum as the Sparks celebrated Beard’s game-winner as the Lynx headed back to the locker room.
“Both times when it happens it kind of feels surreal,” said Montgomery. “Actually before this even started, I said this series could have at least two buzzer-beaters and to start off Game 1 with it was not how I wanted to see the buzzer-beater go down. But it shows how evenly matched both teams are and just our series alone has been decided by so few points. It’s unbelievable.
“But being on the other side of it and waking up and still seeing it all over my timeline, its like maybe I’m going to get off social media until the next game.”
Similar to Beard’s game-winner on Sunday, and Montgomery’s shot earlier this season, Moore’s shot in last year’s Finals also came on the road as the Lynx took Game 3 in Indianapolis.
“I’ve always said winning on the road is one of my favorite things – there’s nothing better,” said Reeve. “And then to do it in that fashion and to suck the life out of a building and then it’s quiet and you’re the only ones celebrating, it’s exhilarating for sure.
“I know that’s obviously how they felt (last night); I know that’s how we felt down in Indiana. So when you’re on the other side of it, I don’t know how Steph (Fever coach Stephanie White) felt; sometimes you’ve just got to tip your hat when a player makes the right read and makes a hard shot, because it wasn’t like she was uncontested. But she (Beard) was confident; she made two great defensive plays that put them in that position. You know Beard is one of those players you can be happy for because she does things the right way. I’m not happy for her that she did it against us, but its one of those things that hey we put ourselves in that situation.”
Ironically, all three players that have hit buzzer-beating game-winners in the WNBA Finals were in the Target Center on Sunday as New York Liberty legend Teresa Weatherspoon – who hit The Shot from half-court in Game 2 of the 1999 Finals – was being honored at halftime as part of the WNBA’s Top 20@20 celebration.
“Yeah, that’s pretty interesting; different type of shots for sure,” Reeve said with a laugh. “Maybe it’s her fault because of her energy, I don’t know. Was she down in Indy when we were there?”
There have been other game-winning shots in the closing moments of WNBA Finals games – Diana Taurasi hit a running shot while being fouled to cap off a Phoenix sweep of Chicago in 2014, Nikki Teasley knocked down the title-clinching 3-pointer for Los Angeles against New York in 2002 – but only three were true walk-off shots.
“[Making a buzzer-beater in the Finals] is kind of an out-of-body experience,” Moore described earlier this year as part of an oral history of Teresa Weatherspoon’s shot back in 1999. “You’re so locked into the moment, and the ball goes in. … Just the eerie silence that was felt after the ball went in. It was kind of like time stood still. I was shocked back into reality when my teammates came and grabbed me. I was just kind of in shock in the moment. You go from such an intense time in the game to – it’s over. It’s over and it’s time to move on and celebrate the victory.”
But unlike the shots by Teasley and Taurasi, the shots by Moore last season, Beard on Sunday night and even Weatherspoon back in 1999 did not win the series for their respective teams. While Moore’s Lynx completed the task by knocking off the Fever in five games to win Minnesota’s third title in five seasons, Weatherspoon’s Liberty followed up the most famous shot in league history with a loss in the deciding Game 3 just 24 hours later.
So how will the Sparks and Lynx respond to the latest buzzer-beating game-winner in the Finals?
During Monday’s practice session, players and coaches from both teams emphasized that even though the game was decided by a single shot, there were plenty of moments throughout the game that could have prevented it from coming down to the final possession.
“We talked about it coming into this series that its going to come down to little details, inbound plays, plays after timeouts, things of that nature and it really did,” said Montgomery. “It came down to one shot, which you know a lot of things happened for it to get to that shot. But it just shows how closely things are matched that any little thing you do in the first quarter can come back, it’s going to be important in the fourth quarter when its only a two-point decided game. I just think of the little things that we could have done differently.”
Thankfully for the Lynx, this shot came in Game 1 and they have an opportunity to respond and bounce back on their home court before the series shifts to Los Angeles.
“You didn’t want that to happen the way it happened, but the good news is that its not one of the single-elimination games,” Montgomery said.
Keep in mind that Montgomery predicted multiple buzzer-beaters in this series. With as evenly matched as these teams are – three of their four meetings this season have been decided by three points or less – there may be more thrilling last-second shots on the horizon.