MINNEAPOLIS — When Maya Moore is at the top of her game, she is simply unstoppable.
Moore scored a career playoff-high 33 points to help the top-seeded Minnesota Lynx beat the Sparks 67-65 Friday night in the opener of their Western Conference semifinals series.
“She’s tough for everyone to contain every night,” Sparks coach Brian Agler said.
Moore took over in the third quarter, scoring 15 points and giving the Lynx a lead as big as 12 points, before Los Angeles clawed back into the game late.
“We’re constantly trying to make our own runs and make the next big play,” Moore said. “I was the beneficiary of some active plays in our paint. We got deflections, got tips. I just try to be aggressive and see what happens.”
Seimone Augustus, back after missing the last eight games of the regular season due to a foot injury, added 17 points for the Lynx.
“I died in the first two or three minutes,” Augustus joked of her return to the lineup. “Once I got into the groove it all felt normal and it felt like I was back.”
Candace Parker had 16 points and nine rebounds and Nneka Ogwumike added 14 points for Los Angeles.
The Sparks used a 9-0 run to pull to 61-60 on Jantel Lavender’s layup with about 5 minutes to go. However, Moore’s fast-break basket gave Minnesota a three-point lead with just over a minute to play.
Los Angeles had a chance to tie in the closing seconds, but Parker missed a shot under the basket as time expired.
“We didn’t run it perfectly but we got the action we wanted and got Candace coming to the ball on the move,” Agler said. “She took a shot she can make. Hindsight is 20-20 and you think about a lot of things that could’ve happened, but sometimes you’ve got to let players make plays.”
Dominated by Minnesota in the opening quarter and trailing 22-15 after 10 minutes, the Sparks flipped the script in the second quarter. They started with a 14-1 run and led by as many as eight. Minnesota, which made just four of its 14 shots from the field in the quarter, managed to chip away late, but Los Angeles led 36-33 at halftime.
Moore led all scorers with 12 points at the break. Parker and Kristi Tolliver led the Sparks with nine points each.
Game 2 of the best-of-three series is Sunday at Long Beach State due to the Emmy Awards taking place near Staples Center. Sparks players bristled at the idea that they will lose their home-court advantage playing away from their normal arena.
“It’s not neutral,” Ogwumike said. “It’s still L.A., and we’ve played there before. It’s a home game.”