A masterful 40-point performance from Maya Moore, including the game-winning free throw with 1.5 seconds, sent the Minnesota Lynx to the WNBA Finals for the fourth time in five years, sweeping the Phoenix Mercury, 72-71, in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals Sunday in Phoenix. The loss ended the season for the defending champion Mercury, while the Lynx will try to replicate titles from 2011 and 2013 against either New York or Indiana, beginning Oct. 4.
“It was one of those instances where you just keep playing until the last horn,” Moore said. “That’s what I’ve been doing all year, I got a deflection, making hustle plays to finish the game. Most of the time, I’m not aware of what I’m doing, I’m so locked into the moment. Everybody had their moment today, which makes it easy for me. I credit everybody, whether they’re making a great screen, I just try to play basketball.”
The Lynx shot 70 percent in the first quarter (12-of-17), opening with a balanced parade of jump shots from its All-Star lineup. Moore, who scored nine points, made it 25-15 from the line to end the period.
Brittney Griner, who was held scoreless with two fouls in the first, awoke in the second, opening with seven of the first nine points during the Mercury’s 11-point run to initiate. DeWanna Bonner scored at 6:25 to put Phoenix in front for the first time, 26-25. Lindsay Whalen immediately gave the Lynx the lead back, and it went back and forth until being knotted at 41-41 at halftime, with Moore knocking down three late three pointers and owning 20 points total already. Griner scored 13 of her 15 in the second and the Defensive Player of the Year kept the Lynx shooting 5-of-16.
The Mercury went up by six, 53-47, as Monique Currie was all alone under the rim for her 11th points. Moore cut the lead to one with another shot from downtown, and the difference was 59-58 in favor of Phoenix after three. Anna Cruz’s three two minutes into the fourth equalized at 61-61 for Minnesota. Moore gave it the lead at 63-62, then converted a steal for a three-point lead.
Bonner responded to a Lynx shot clock violation with a game-tying three. Whalen later tied it at 69-69 with a reverse layup and a minute to play, answered by Bonner for the lead at 54 ticks. Moore recorded two free throws to tie it again 16 seconds later. Currie missed the go-ahead floater, Moore did the same on the other end, Noelle Quinn couldn’t get the final shot off at 1.5 seconds, and Moore calmly iced the game from the line.
“What a great game against two great teams, it could have went either way,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “We’re very disappointed at the moment, just some crucial plays down the end. Maya is a special player, but we kept every one else quiet. Minnesota deserved the credit, they know how to play in those big games.”
Sylvia Fowles concluded with 14 rebounds (13 defensive) and eight points, the same as Seimone Augustus and Cruz for Minnesota. Leading the Mercury in scoring were Dupree (16), Griner (15), Currie (14), and Bonner (13), with Currie adding seven rebounds and six assists.
“From day one,” Augustus said, “we’re all humble, don’t have any ego, we just want to win, we’re thankful to be in this position, it’s not easy, I don’t know if it looks easy.”
In Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals, Tamika Catchings scored 25 points to lead the Indiana Fever from 18 down to defeat the New York Liberty, 70-64, and set up a deciding game at 4 p.m. PT Tuesday from Madison Square Garden. Tina Charles led the Liberty with 25 and 10.