Reusse: Lynx show they are still missing Maya Moore

·4 min read

The WNBA opened its 25th season Friday night, and this will be the 23rd of those for the Minnesota Lynx. The opponent was the Phoenix Mercury, one of three WNBA originals, and a team with high-profile talent and a sizable history of defeat against the Lynx in the playoffs.

The Mercury's postseason record against the Lynx is 2-11, with the most recent of those losses coming last October, in a one-game quarterfinal inside the WNBA bubble in Bradenton, Fla.

The final was 80-79, with Mercury star Skylar Diggins-Smith missing a shot before the buzzer. Things were reversed in a very odd fashion Friday at Target Center when cold-shooting Diana Taurasi hit a three with 6.8 seconds left to give the Mercury a 77-75 victory.

And this is where the oddness entered: There were actually 1.1 seconds left, since there had been an inadvertent stoppage of the clock after Crystal Dangerfield's turnover in traffic with a 75-74 lead.

Reeve said the clock stopped when one of the refs "breathed" into a whistle. There's a teeny-weenie shutoff in those whistles when it detects a quick blast of breath.

The three officials spent nearly 10 minutes trying to decide what to do about this. One ref broke out a stopwatch and, yes, Taurasi beat the clock, and, no, there wouldn't be much time for the Lynx to throw in a shot after a timeout.

It was somewhat amazing the Lynx — with star Napheesa Collier still playing in France — were in any position to open with a win after their first half. They scored 10 points in the first quarter, and finished 10-for-37 for the half and were fortunate to be down only 33-24.

The Lynx went from denting rims to lighting it up in the third quarter. Aerial Powers, one of three free agents added for 2021, was terrific. Dangerfield had moments in the comeback before dribbling into the mess that wound up giving Taurasi the last chance.

Dangerfield was the WNBA Rookie of Year in 2020. The Lynx were enough of a surprise at 14-8 inside the bubble that Reeve also was voted as Coach of the Year.

Those accolades and the free-agent reinforcements are nice, but what the Lynx still must discover is if they can find real success without Maya Moore.

The Lynx were 165-235 with a 1-4 playoff record in the 12 seasons before Moore was drafted No. 1 overall in 2011. The Lynx were 200-72 with a 40-15 playoff record and those four titles in Moore's eight seasons. They are 32-24 with a 1-4 playoff record in two seasons since she stepped away to concentrate on reform in the justice system.

Moore was able to help win freedom for Jonathan Irons in Missouri on July 1, 2020, and they are now married. She turns 32 on June 11. She's not officially retired, but the Lynx have moved on.

Which isn't easy.

Lindsay Whalen, a teammate for the Wolves titles and Olympic gold medals, and now the Gophers coach, was asked what made Moore, a 6-foot-1 forward, her sport's perpetual winner?

"I would say No. 1 would be her fearlessness," Whalen said. "She would take any shot at any time. If Cheryl or Geno [Auriemma] wanted to get on her, she would look them in the eye, then let it go.

"There was no thought of failure with her. She always was ready to make the next play."

The last great moment for the Lynx was on Oct. 4, 2017. Whalen and Seimone Augustus were still healthy, Sylvia Fowles was a rebounding machine and the Lynx defeated the L.A. Sparks 85-76 for the fourth title.

The temporary home was Williams Arena, the crowd was an astounding 14,632, and all were getting nervous as the Sparks went on a 9-0 run to cut the lead to 79-76 with 35 seconds left.

What to do? Give it to Maya. She made a tough runner near the free-throw line and that was game, set and championship.

"That's why she's Maya Moore," Whalen said that night. "And that's why we like her on our team."

There's rebuilding a roster to be competitive, which Reeve has done, and then there's noteworthy winning without Moore, which is the challenge ahead in Post-Maya, Season 3.

Write to Patrick Reusse by e-mailing sports@startribune.com and including his name in the subject line.