Maya Moore hits buzzer-beater in moment of 'greatness'

Editor's note: This story was originally published on Oct. 9, 2015.

INDIANAPOLIS -- It is not Maya Moore's nature to take her time. She's typically a bit frenetic on court, a bundle of intense energy, and that occasionally has driven Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve a little nuts.

"I think my natural state is to go really fast," Moore said. "That's just my personality. Go really fast, play really hard, and ask questions later."

And here Moore was facing a career moment of truth Friday night, in front of 16,332 mostly Indiana Fever fans, when foul trouble had her looking not-very-Maya-like.

Moore had played just 1 minute, 46 seconds in the third quarter. She had 12 points, and her Lynx were clinging to a 59-57 lead in Game 3 of the WNBA Finals. She had 10 minutes left to be the Maya Moore, the league MVP of 2014 who made a run at repeating that honor this year.

She would use every tenth of a second of those 10 minutes to lead the Lynx to a heart-pounding victory. Moore's 3-pointer beat the buzzer by the slimmest of margins, giving Minnesota an 80-77 win for a 2-1 series edge.

The Lynx will try to claim their third title in five years on Sunday (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET) back here at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Will that game be as competitive as this one was? Maybe, but it will be hard to top it in the dramatic-finish department.

"I knew when she caught it, I had a feeling she'd put the ball in," said Lynx guard Lindsay Whalen, who threw the inbounds pass to Moore with 1.7 seconds left from in front of the Fever bench. "The poise she had on that play was just really unbelievable. She gave a little fake, got to her spot, knew the time she had, and it was awesome. It was a great shot, and that's what great players do."

"With the level of success she's had her whole career and the way she continually comes through in big moments, continually gets big numbers ... we're really witnessing greatness." Renee Montgomery on Maya Moore

It was crushing for the Fever, who took a 77-74 lead on Briann January's jump shot with 2:08 left but didn't score again.

"That was just a great player making a great play at the end of a great game," Fever coach Stephanie White said. "Great individual effort on her part."

Moore said she didn't recall having made a similar buzzer-beater in a high stakes game since going for an AAU championship in her teenage years. Fact is, both in college at UConn and in the pros with Minnesota, Moore has helped her teams win a ton of games without having to depend on last-second heroics.

Yet when the time came for that type of scenario on Friday, Moore was the obvious choice for the shot.

"You know Maya Moore is going to get it," White said. "We talked about switching to keep her from catching, and then we had to be able to contest any shot that she put up."

But she did catch it -- and kudos to Whalen, who didn't play in the fourth quarter until being inserted for that inbounds pass. Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve had depended on reserve guards Renee Montgomery and Anna Cruz -- who combined for 22 points and played excellent defense -- for most of the game. But she knew no one would keep her cool passing the ball in for a final shot better than Whalen.

She waited as Moore made her move to get free from the defense, and then found her. With a little head fake to the left, and one dribble to the right, Moore had an open look with just enough time -- did we mention she has a very quick release? -- to sink the shot.

"That was pretty, pretty close to not making it," Moore acknowledged of beating the buzzer. "[But] 1.7 is a lot of time. I'm a basketball junkie. I've been playing almost my whole life, so those situations you see so often ... everything kind of fell into line. I did what I could. I can't say I've completely masterminded the whole situation. It was just a basketball move, and I was able to get it off."

OK, enough with the modesty. It was fantastic, period.

"I knew when she caught it. I had a feeling she'd put the ball in. The poise she had on that play was just really unbelievable. She gave a little fake, got to her spot, knew the time she had, and it was awesome." Lindsay Whalen on teammate Maya Moore's winning shot

During this regular season, Moore's shooting percentage was the lowest it's been in her five years in the WNBA: 42 percent. She still averaged 20.6 points per game, so it wasn't a huge concern. Still, Reeve delved into video and watched a couple of seasons of Moore's shots, trying to see if anything was different.

She found that Moore was at times trying too hard to force things and expending energy on court in ways that weren't always productive. For instance, Moore will go for near-impossible defensive plays that don't pan out. And in the Reeve's effort to help Moore get to legend-status player, she's pointed out these small but nagging little things that can sometimes add up to subtract from greatness.

Since the playoffs started, Moore's shooting percentage has been about the same, but her offensive production has been even better than the regular season. She's averaged 26.1 points, and when she's needed to more or less carry the Lynx, she's done that.

Friday, though, it was the rest of the team that helped carry Moore into the fourth quarter, when she was so effective. With 12 points in the final period -- making 5 of 7 shots -- she equaled her output from the previous three quarters.

"Oftentimes in her career when she gets in foul trouble, it doesn't end well," Reeve said. "She just decided to go play.

"She throws caution to the wind at every turn, and she just plays. Sometimes, it goes really, really well. Other times, you can pull your hair out in watching her try to do some stuff. Tonight was probably a little bit of both. But it ended where we were really happy for her."

Moore's former UConn teammate Montgomery had a big game herself, with 12 points, including a crucial 3-pointer with 1:11 left to tie the score at 77. Montgomery was traded to Minnesota from Seattle in July, sending her from a team in rebuilding mode to one in championship-contending mode.

Montogomery saw her share of fabulous Maya achievements while they were Huskies together, and Friday she got to share one as a professional teammate.

"It's crazy, because we're in the moment right now," Montgomery said. "But I recognize we're witnessing greatness. With the level of success she's had her whole career, and the way she continually comes through in big moments, continually gets big numbers ... it's not like teams don't scout for her and try their best against her. I mean, we're really witnessing greatness, and it's nice to be a part of it."