Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

WNBA Finals: Moore's Money Shot at the Buzzer Stuns Indiana as Minnesota Goes Up 2-1


By Mel Greenberg
For Blue Star Media

INDIANAPOLIS –
Women’s Basketball Legend Maya Moore sliced the hearts of 16,332 predominately WNBA Indiana Fever fans in an arena appropriately named Bankers Life Friday night with a buzzer-beating three-point money shot from beyond the top of the key in the final 1.7 seconds to give the Minnesota Lynx an 80-77 victory in Game 3 and a 2-1 lead in the best of five championship series

The Lynx can close out the Fever for their third title in five years when the two meet in Game 4 Sunday night at 8:30 p.m. here on ESPN2 or at worst from their perspective, having regained the home advantage, on Wednesday night when a penultimate fifth game would be played back in Minneapolis at the Target Center.

It’s only the second time in the 19-year history of the WNBA finals when a long shot decided the outcome, the other being Teresa Weatherspoon’s 47-foot missile from beyond half court on a play that began with 2.4 seconds left to even a best-of-series with the former Houston Comets 68-67 in 1999 before the Texans won their third straight the next day.

In terms of winning with less than three seconds on the clock the other electrifier in a finals came in Game 1 of the 2010 WNBA series when Seattle’s Sue Bird, like Moore a former UConn great, hit a jumper from the foul line with 2.6 seconds left for the Storm’s 87-84 win over the Atlanta Dream on the way for a second crown in Seattle history.

And in recalling a great finish in the NCAA men’s tournament, Duke’s Christian Laettner ruined Kentucky 104-103 in a regional title game with a length-of-the-court heave in Philadelphia’s former Spectrum with 2.1 seconds left.

“That was pretty fun,” Moore said afterwards. “Pretty fun to finish that way.”

Asked to recall any previous winner at the horn, Moore said, “I guess high school was the last buzzer-beater. I was 16, to win an AAU championship.”

Ironically, the team she beat was the Philadelphia Belles, a nationally prominent organization, who once counted among its top talents over the years Moore’s Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve, the native of southern New Jersey who starred at La Salle College in the City of Brotherly Love

Moore was once on the other side of a buzzer-beating situation in the 2012 when Notre Dame put an end to her illustrious collegiate career at Connecticut in overtime.

In the national semifinals in Denver, Natalie Novosel scored inside with four seconds left in regulation to force overtime and the Irish took it from there sending Moore on the way to the next stage of her career where she quickly became the overall No. 1 draft pick with her selection by Minnesota.

Since then she has picked up a league MVP title and a key part of two championships by the Lynx in 2012, her rookie season, and 2014.

Now her shot Friday night has the Lynx knocking on the door for another one.

“Well, 1.7 is a lot of time,” she described the winning play. “Everything kind of fell into line. I did what I could. I can’t say I completed masterminded the whole situation. It was just a basketball move and I was able to get it off.

“Fortunately, I have a pretty quick release so it worked out … It felt good. It felt good. There’s not much you can do after it leaves your hand until it goes in the rim, other than hope it goes in.

“But it felt good coming off my hand. It felt a little off center, but not so off center that it couldn’t go in. But I’m just glad it went in.”

I think that might have been one of the best played WNBA Finals games in our history,” Reeve proclaimed in the media presser afterwards. “I’m pretty mindful of things that have gone on before us. But that’s got to be right up there.”

Certainly with eight ties and 11 lead changes, the game was tense and exiting throughout, especially with the crowd at, excuse the expression for this particular home team, Fever pitch to provide a great atmosphere.

But the game’s ultimate place in the WNBA finals talked lexicon will be enhanced or diminished by whether Minnesota moves on to win it all, in the process attaining for its fans, revenge for losing to Indy in 2012 a year after claiming the first crown in the Lynx franchise history.

But maybe both teams are just getting started considering there's still Sunday's game here and potentially one more in Minnesota.

One certainly can't discount a Fever squad that has done well on the road, rallying from an opening loss in the conference semifinals to dethrone the reigning Eastern playoff champion Chicago Sky.

Then after trailing by 18 in Game 2 of the Eastern finals following an opening loss to New York, the Fever rallied to force Game 3, where in Madison Square Garden before a hostile crowd, the Lynx put an end to the Liberty's renaissance season.

With Game 3 see-sawing down the stretch Friday night, the way things were going with two league superstars – one from each in Moore and Indiana’s Tamika Catchings involved – it seemed likely that even as both struggled – one of them might be headed to a frozen moment in time for all to recall in years to come.

Certainly it virtually froze for Reeve, who described her thoughts in the final moments from the time the ball was inbounded in the Lynx frontcourt.

“It looked darn good. It looked darn good. I don’t know if I had any thoughts. It looked like what you felt in the arena. It just got quiet. It’s what you’ve seen in the movies with the ball going in the basket (nothing but net swishing through completing a path from it’s launch by Moore),” Reeve described.

“It looked like everyone was watching, then it went through and (sound) picked up again, and that’s what it felt like.”

Now the only way Indy might have been rescued and allowed to try to win in overtime would have been for Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck’s sister Lady to arrive and effect an observation by the officials viewing the video replay that would indicate the shot didn’t go down fast enough, allowing Indiana to dodge defeat for at least another five minutes.

Perhaps because there is a chance to play another day or days and all Moore did was tip the balance of an existing 1-1 tie rather than closing the WNBA postseason, Fever rookie coach Stephanie White was remarkably straight forward and sounded more like she was in her offseason role as a prime collegiate women’s basketball analyst for the Big Ten network.

“That was a great player making a great play at the end of the game,” the former Purdue star said. “I’m proud of our team how we fought. We battled.

“We did a much better job in some areas we needed to improve. But that was just a hell of a shot by Maya Moore. Great individual effort on her part. She comes back in and think the beginning of the fourth quarter maybe has five straight points, and Minnesota got great balance.

“Their bench, again, was superb, and we just gave ourselves an opportunity. We gave ourselves an opportunity and didn’t capitalize.”

White alluded to the pump fake Moore pulled on former Maryland star Marissa Coleman before launching the shot.

“One of the great things that Maya Moore does, she always stays poised. She always stays under control. Marissa wanted to contest, and got suckered a little bit in the head and shoulder fake, but I just thought it was a heck of a shot and a heck of a play.”

The UConn karma also permeated the Lynx in the performance of former Huskie Renee Montgomery, who has struggled in recent seasons off injuries, but who delivered a key three-pointer to tie the game 77-77 with 1 minute, 25 seconds left in regulation.

The Fever then had a chance to delight the fan base here but steady Brian January missed a jumper with 46 seconds left. However, Erlana Larkins grabbed the offensive rebound to retain possession but then quickly made a bad pass turnover.

Montgomery, who had 12 points off the bench to account for her part of a completed reserve combo of 22 points going with former New Yorker Anna Cruz scoring 10, missed a chance at a game-winner with 26.9 seconds left.

Coleman then gave Indy another chance at taking the lead in the series but former Florida State star Shenise Johnson, who propelled the Fever with 14 of her 17 points in the first half, missed with 4.9 seconds left and the Lynx called time to set up the Moore moment that followed Lindsay Whalen’s pass to get the ball in her hands.

Reeve called Montgomery a big key to the win on a night that although Moore scored 24, she missed almost half the game in two stretches in each half with foul trouble.

Moore was asked whether her teammate’s performance was the vintage Huskies’ Montgomery who was a contemporary of Moore on the collegiate powerhouse.

“I had a flashback for a second. She’s even talking to me like we’re in school again,” Moore said of Montgomery. “But she’s a battler. She’s a competitor.

“I remember really being connected to Renee when we were in school together because we were the two most competitive people everywhere we went. We were never on the same team (at practice) because we would kill the other team, so we always had to be on opposite teams and we would just duke it out because we were competitors, and she’s brought that to the Lynx.”

Sylvia Fowles, who came to the Lynx at midseason in a trade from Chicago also involving the Atlanta Dream, had a double double with 11 points and 11 rebounds for Minnesota, while Seimone Augustus, recovered from a bunch of nagging injuries, scored 13.

The Lynx shot 7-of-13 treys, including 4-for-7 from Moore.

Johnson’s 17 was a team high for the Fever, who also got 14 from Coleman, 15 from January, but only 10 from Catchings, who will be retiring after next season.

She also had 10 rebounds while in trying to maintain her role as the Fever’s force, shot only 3-of-10 from the field and missed an easy inside layup down the stretch with the outcome still undetermined.

“Yeah, this is probably the worst I played,” said Catchings, who now owns the WNBA record for most postseason appearances at 65, breaking a tie with former WNBA star Taj McWilliams-Franklin. She’s also tied with McWilliams-Franklin with her 64th start and that will be broken on Sunday barring any unforeseen event to sideline her.

“It’s just so frustrating as a player when you know you’re so much better.”

Montgomery paid tribute from her side of the long association with Moore.

“We’re witnessing greatness. It’s hard to realize in the moment but the way she continuously puts up big numbers night in and night out, when you know the entire scouting report is focused on her, she continuously comes through.

“I’m excited to witness that and be part of it. I was with her in college, and now in the pros. We are witnessing greatness.”



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