WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (AP) — Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve didn’t like the way Maya Moore was playing, so she benched her star for most of the fourth quarter and then put her back in the game at just the right time.
Moore went to the bench with 5 minutes left and didn’t return until the final minute, hitting the go-ahead 3-pointer with 19.5 seconds left to lift the Lynx to a 78-72 victory over New York on Friday night, spoiling the Liberty’s first game in their new home — the Westchester County Center.
“I thought she was awful in the stretch when we subbed her out,” Reeve said. “She didn’t have legs and didn’t look good. … Probably sat her longer than I ordinarily would. I had to resist very strongly not to put her back in because, you know it’s Maya Moore. We waited until exactly the right time.”
Moore, who finished with 20 points, agreed with her coach’s assessment.
“I wasn’t being tough enough to play defensively against a WNBA team. Everyone is very talented and you have to be all out every minute. … When she put me back in I was ready to go. I didn’t pout, stayed engaged.
With her team down by 72-71, Moore caught the ball at halfcourt out of a timeout, dribbled to the top of the key swished a 3-pointer through the net.
“That was plan ‘C,'” Moore said laughing about her pull-up 3.
Kia Nurse tried to respond for New York (0-2), but she missed a jumper and the Lynx (2-1) hit four free throws in the final 13 seconds to seal the win. Seimone Augustus scored 21 points to lead the Lynx (2-1).
Charles finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds for New York, which will play all but two games at the arena, which houses the Knicks’ G-League team. The County Center is configured to seat 2,319 fans for Liberty games with the option to expand it to about 4,500. The Liberty drew an average of just over 9,000 last year when they played at Madison Square Garden. Friday’s opener was a sellout.
“It’s different, but as a WNBA player we’re used to playing all over the world,” Moore said of the new venue. “As long as there’s two goals and a ball, we’re fine. Glad we were able to open this location with a W for us. It’s going to be a tough place to play for opponents to come in. Fans are on top of you and it’s louder.”
Among the crowd was Liberty owner James Dolan, who put the team up for sale over the winter but didn’t find a suitable buyer. The team is still up for sale. Moving games from the Garden to Westchester saves him a lot of money.
Dolan, who has owned the team since its inception, sat on the baseline for the first half with team president Isiah Thomas. WNBA President Lisa Borders was also at the game, sitting at one of the courtside tables.
The County Center tried to have the feel of MSG with the same in-game entertainment, including the ever-popular Timeless Torches senior dance team, and of course the loveable mascot Maddie. Despite the smaller venue it was certainly loud. They cheered when Marissa Coleman scored the Liberty’s first points at their new home.
“I think we’re going to have great support in the Westchester community, Charles said. “Just what the New York Liberty management was able to do to make it as close to the atmosphere and same feel as MSG.”
Charles then went on to say that as great as it was, it’s still not the Garden. Then again, she said, “Nowhere is. … MSG is in a whole nother realm to itself.”
New York was trailing the defending champion Lynx 41-36 at the half before a strong third quarter, led by Nurse, gave the Liberty a four-point lead heading into the final period. New York was up 67-61 in the fourth before Minnesota rallied.
The game also marked the home debut of coach Katie Smith, who took over as the head coach this season after spending a few years as an assistant. New York was missing guards Brittany Boyd (Achilles), Sugar Rodgers (knee) and Epiphanny Prince (concussion). The Liberty also were still missing Kia Vaughn, who was finishing up her overseas season.
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