- Mechelle Voepel, espnW.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Summer Olympics weren't a drain for Minnesota's Maya Moore. Rather, the London Games served as a battery-charger for a player who never seems that low on energy anyway.
Moore had a terrific second half of this WNBA season, and it's carrying over well to the playoffs. Her Lynx started the defense of their WNBA title with a 78-70 victory at Target Center on Friday.
"It was just a great experience for me in London," said Moore, who played for Team USA with Lynx teammates Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus. "I got a lot of good memories on the court and winning that gold medal. We really got into a good rhythm over there. And my team, when we came back, was ready and prepared."
In fact, Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve told her non-Olympians during the Summer Games break that they needed to be prepared for Moore, Whalen, and Augustus all returning from England at the top of their games, and that they'd have to keep up with the gold-medal winners.
The other Minnesota players have done a pretty good job of that, which has meant the rest of the WNBA teams have had a hard time keeping up with the Lynx. They are now 17-1 on their home court this season.
Next door at Target Field on Friday, the Twins' motivation was trying to play spoiler in MLB's American League Central. They beat division-leading Detroit 4-2, giving the Twins as close as they'll get this season to a playoff atmosphere.
The two games going on at the same time meant that it was a very busy night in downtown Minneapolis. But there was no "spoiling" going on with the Lynx, despite a pretty gutsy effort from the Storm, who were led by rookie Shekinna Stricklen's 13 points and seven rebounds.
The Lynx are the front-running favorites, and even if they didn't like various aspects of their performance Friday -- transition defense being a main one -- they still got the result they wanted to open the postseason.
Moore had a lot to do with that: She had 16 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and the highlight play of the night. After missing a shot early in the fourth quarter, Moore raced back to get in the passing lane, got a steal, and evaded a Storm defender to toss the ball ahead to Whalen for a layup.
"It was a momentum play -- those are what the playoffs are all about," Whalen said. "Maya is definitely one to go make the hustle play, to do whatever it takes."
Whalen had an impressive night herself, though, with team highs in points (20) and assists (six), plus four rebounds. Augustus (19 points) and Rebekkah Brunson (12) also scored in double figures for Minnesota.
The Lynx led 33-27 at halftime, but Reeve was annoyed that they really weren't doing what they wanted to do offensively. Minnesota spread the floor better in the second half, and that paid off especially in freeing up Augustus. She had eight of her points in the third quarter.
"I thought we were crowded a lot in the first half and weren't getting the movement," Reeve said. "We found Seimone in some close-out situations where she's really, really good. Vintage Seimone."
Even if this game wasn't vintage Lynx in terms of how aesthetically pleasing their offense often is to watch, it was still good enough. "Pick your poison" is one of the more over-used basketball clichés, but the phrase always enters your mind when you're watching the Lynx because they are particularly poisonous. No matter what opponents do, they often find themselves desperately looking for anti-venom that typically isn't available.
"We take a lot of pride in our defense, and they have multiple weapons out there," Storm coach Brian Agler said. "If you give too much attention to any one person, someone else will take advantage of you."
That's pretty much how foes felt about playing Seattle two years ago, when the Storm were the dominant team all through 2010 and won the league championship. This year's Storm really never quite look like that group, mostly because Lauren Jackson isn't having an MVP-caliber season like she did then.
Jackson didn't play with Seattle this season until after the Olympics, and she's not at the dominant game-changer level now that we've seen in the past. Jackson, who had 12 points and three rebounds Friday, is dealing with injuries. And it appears that Seattle point guard Sue Bird is not her usual self, either.
Bird had eight points and five turnovers. In some moments of Friday's game where normally her hand would be on the tiller, she wasn't even necessarily on the court. Asked afterward if she was feeling below par physically, Bird just shrugged. But Agler indicated she was gutting out the 28 minutes she played.
"Sue's a competitor, and I can guarantee that whatever you see, she's giving everything she's got," Agler said. "I never, ever question her effort. Whatever she can possibly give, she's giving."
Bird's Olympic teammate and fellow UConn alum Moore has that same kind of reputation. But fortunately for the Lynx right now, Moore has an abundance to give.
Sure, it helps that Moore is just 23 years old, and the spring in her youthful step is still so bouncy. But it also has a lot to do with Moore's ultra-competitive personality, which you can't imagine will change even when she's in her 80s fiercely trying to win card games.
"You always have to be trying to make a play," Moore said. "You can't get tired, you can't lose your focus. You have to keep looking for opportunities to attack. That's something I always try to do when I'm on the court, and I have players around me that think the same way."
Minnesota opened defense of its WNBA title with a win over Seattle on Friday. It wasn't the vintage performance the Lynx are used to, but Maya Moore made sure it was enough.