Maya Moore, the greatest WNBA player of her generation and perhaps ever, found many trends going against her Sunday night in Los Angeles, where her Minnesota Lynx faced the Sparks in Game 4 of the 2016 WNBA Finals. Moore's team trailed the best-of-five series, 2-1. They'd lost Game 3, 92-75. The Sparks were nearly as good as the Lynx during the regular season, and had a chance to close out a series at home, giving Candace Parker her first WNBA title.
The trends kept trending downward to start Game 4 as Moore missed her first five shots, while three fouls on power forward Rebekkah Brunson and an injury to Janel McCarville forced her to play out of position at the four spot.
And then Moore did what she almost always does when there's something to win. She scored 31 points, the Lynx won 85-79, and now they get a Game 5 in Minnesota with the title on the line.
Moore's point total is really just the starting point if you want to take the full measure of her night. She rebounded from her poor shooting start to make nine of her final 12 shot attempts. She converted 11 of 12 free throws, including four late ones to ice the game. She was only in position to be on the line at the end of the game because she grabbed a vital defensive rebound on L.A.'s penultimate possession, and stole an inbounds pass on their final possession.
She had the energy to do this at the end of the game despite spending much of the night defending Parker, the former WNBA MVP who has four inches on Moore. Parker finished the night four-for-14 from the field, and Moore consistently found ways to deny her the ball on key possessions. Late in the third quarter, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve tried to buy Moore a few minutes of rest. The Sparks responded by cutting the Minnesota lead to 57-56.
Moore returned—she wouldn't sit for the remainder of the game—and promptly moved behind a Sylvia Fowles screen and buried a three. Sparks guard Chelsea Gray answered with a three of her own, so Moore buried another one. She then broke up a Sparks offensive set and took the ball the length of the court, drawing a foul and hitting a pair of free throws.
By the end of the third quarter, the Lynx led 65-59. Moore made it clear that the Sparks weren't going to climb that mountain.
"I knew we were going to fight," she said following the game. "If we were going down, we were going out fighting, and we were able to bounce back and match their runs, and giving ourselves a little cushion to have that edge. When we did come back from their runs, it meant we were getting our cushion back and not tying the game up and playing from behind."
Not many people can decide on a strategy of "the other team isn't allowed to catch up" and then make it so. Not many people, though, are Maya Moore.
The 27-year-old can win her fourth title in six seasons Thursday night. She'll be younger than Michael Jordan or LeBron James were when they won their first.
When asked what rattles Moore, her coach, Cheryl Reeve, put it this way: "I think when I sub and take her out she doesn't like that very much. She looked at me like, 'Me? I'm coming out?'"
Don't expect Moore to come out of the game much Thursday night, either.