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Maya Moore, Lynx escape with win

MINNEAPOLIS -- Maya Moore accepted her WNBA Rookie of the Year award Friday at Target Center, and a couple of hours later was standing at the free throw line. Her Minnesota Lynx led 66-65 in the team's 2011 playoff opener, the franchise's first postseason game since Moore was a sophomore in high school.

There were 11,891 fans in the arena, nearly three times as many people as showed up for the last Lynx playoff game, in 2004. This crowd had seen both the Lynx and the San Antonio Silver Stars struggle at times with their shooting. But Seimone Augustus -- in her sixth year in the WNBA, but in her first postseason game -- had just nailed an 11-foot jumper with less than a minute left to give the Lynx their one-point lead.

Moore wouldn't be able to seal the win with the free throws, but she could at least give the Lynx the lead by three. The spotlight was on her throughout her UConn career, on WNBA draft day as she was picked No. 1, and now again as she stood at the stripe. These are made-for-Maya moments, right?

First free throw … short.

Moore grimaced, then set her jaw.

Second free throw … to the left, and long.

And so it happens even to those players as gifted, as talented, as ready for their close-up as Moore. Even they sometimes clank two free throws in crunch time with thousands of people watching.

"It was one of those games where I was just a little bit off," Moore said. "The good thing is I never stopped playing, so I'm not going to be disappointed in my effort."

And she didn't have to be disappointed by the outcome, either. After Moore missed her freebies, Rebekkah Brunson powered in for the rebound -- her 14th of the game -- was fouled … and then missed both of her free throws, too.

But on the other end of the court, when the Silver Stars attempted to inbound the ball, Lindsay Whalen was able to tip it. Moore chased after it with the maniacal vigor of a Labrador puppy fixated on a tennis ball.

"I was guarding my player and always try to keep an eye on the ball, too," Moore said. "Lindsay tipped it, then the ball was up in the air, and I tried to tip it to myself. Then it was on the ground, and I tried to scramble for it. I just pushed it ahead and ran after it, and time expired."

And with that, Moore and the Lynx had defended their home court by their chinny-chin-chins, 66-65 against the Silver Stars.

Whalen, the home-state hero in her second season with the Lynx, brought playoff experience with her from her days with the Connecticut Sun. It showed, as she was the Lynx's best player throughout the night. She had a game-high 20 points, plus five assists and five rebounds.

Augustus, who said it took her until into the second quarter to feel like she was settled down, had 19 points.

Moore was the other Lynx player in double figures, finishing with 10. That came on 4-of-12 shooting from the field. She was 2-of-6 from the free throw line. Moore was critical of aspects of her game Friday. But the oldest player for the Lynx, Taj McWilliams-Franklin, had this to say about the youngest: "What Maya has that most people don't is the drive to always do something else. If Maya isn't scoring, she's going to help in some other way. She's thinking, 'I can get that offensive rebound. I can throw a good pass.'

"All game, what I saw was Maya diving, hustling, running, getting rebounds, getting loose balls. It's what's always set her apart."

Moore's primary competition for rookie of the year honors this season was San Antonio's Danielle Adams. However, the time Adams missed after the All-Star break with a foot sprain largely took her out of the running for the honor. Still, Adams' return to the lineup has definitely helped the Silver Stars, and Friday she and veteran Becky Hammon led the team with 16 points each.

Hammon, who is in her 13th season, was asked to reflect upon what it was like being a WNBA rookie trying to find her way.

"Ignorance is bliss a little bit when you're a rookie," said Hammon, whose 3-pointer in transition with 1:10 left would have been the game-winner if it hadn't been trumped by Augustus' shot. "Danielle -- you couldn't tell she was a rookie out there tonight. She handled her business. Our rookies are a big reason we got here."

Then, despite the disappointment of losing to the Lynx for a fifth time this season, Hammon smiled and added, "I go back to my rookie year … I had bangs then, and that's one thing I'm glad I got rid of."

The stylish Moore likely won't have any coiffure regrets from her first WNBA year -- and she hopes not to have any regrets, period. Moore went to UConn with a plan, and she was also very prepared for coming to the WNBA.

"I remember one of my first conversations with Maya after we drafted her," said Minnesota's Cheryl Reeve, who was named coach of the year before the game in a co-awards ceremony with Moore. "I asked her if she knew what to expect -- how good the players were, what she envisioned for herself, how she would fit in.

"And without blinking an eye, she said, 'Yeah, I think I know. I know the things I can get better at, and how I can help this team.' There wasn't a second I thought about not starting Maya this season, because I knew if you challenged her in that way, she would respond. She's been everything that we thought she would be."

As for winning the rookie award on such a balanced team, Moore joked, "I better be rookie of the year when I'm playing with two MVP candidates [Augustus and Whalen]. How much more can I ask for as far as help?

"It makes going to work -- if you can call this work -- every day so much more enjoyable when the people around you are passionate, focused and a blast to be with."

Friday was far from perfect for Moore and the Lynx. They know they are fortunate to have escaped the Silver Stars again. Moore said of her missed free throws at the end, "Ugh, that was terrible," and of her performance overall, "I guess I was never completely comfortable all night."

Yet when the buzzer sounded, everything was right with her and the Lynx.

"We did what we needed to do," Moore said. "It wasn't exactly how we wanted it, but it's one of those games that gives us something more to strive for."

Which is pretty much the mode that Moore is in all the time.

Mechelle Voepel, a regular contributor to ESPN.com, can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com. Read her blog at mechellevoepelblog.com.