The best in the East and best in the West collided for the second time in 10 days Sunday at the Target Center. In a tight game with 14 lead changes, the Minnesota Lynx turned the ball over in five of their last eight possessions to endure yet another devastating loss to the New York Liberty.
MVP Maya Moore was in the starting lineup for the Lynx, but had been questionable heading into the game after enduring a shot to the nose in Minnesota's 81-65 win over Indiana Friday.
While it appears the injury wasn't severe, her efforts in the first quarter Sunday were. Moore shot 5 of 8 from the field for a team-high 12 points. Her aggressive offense gave Minnesota a slight two-point edge over the Liberty heading into the second quarter.
Looking for a third straight win and home-court advantage during the playoffs, the Lynx (21-10) played without injured All-Stars Lindsay Whalen and Seimone Augustus. With just under four minutes remaining in the first half, Moore found herself on the bench as well after notching her third foul on the night.
Needing two wins to clinch the top spot in the Eastern Conference, New York (21-9) was unable to capitalize on Moore's foul trouble. Minnesota outscored the Liberty 12-7 in the stretch to head into their locker room at halftime with a 43-39 lead.
The Liberty that stepped onto the court in the second half looked like an entirely different team. Often known for their strong defense, New York clicked offensively throughout the third quarter shooting 51 percent from the field. The Liberty, behind Tanisha Wright's 10-point third quarter, took a 63-59 lead.
Three minutes into the fourth quarter the momentum swung back towards the home team. Lynx Center Sylvia Fowles took advantage of an uncharacteristically bad pass by Tina Charles. The steal resulted in a quick three-point shot from Moore. As Minnesota closed the gap to just one point, Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer called a timeout.
New York scored a quick four points out of the break. More importantly they buckled down defensively, dominating in the paint and slowing Minnesota's offensive push. In their last eight possessions, the Lynx turned the ball over five times sealing their 75-71 loss.
"That's where we live and die most of the season is our defense," coach Laimbeer said following the victory. "Yeah, we can score some, but at the end of the day, we're going to get stops and we're going to get rebounds and that's what we did in the fourth quarter."
Tina Charles led her team with 18 points and 14 rebounds. Epiphanny Prince demonstrated how she earned her player of the month honors with 18 points and six assists, while Tanisha Wright added a solid 16 points and seven assists.
Moore finished the night with 23 points and two steals for the Lynx. Fowles contributed 19 points and nine rebounds in the home loss.
While Minnesota shot two percentage points higher from the field, the Liberty took 12 more shots on the night and forced 13 rebounds to help solidify their victory.
"Every team is going to play very determined at the end, defensively," said Moore. " I have to make better decisions, and just overall, we can execute better in the fourth."
New York's win puts them one game away from clinching the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage as they inch closer to the playoffs each day.
"I am just hoping that we make it to the Finals, and we see Minnesota in the Finals," New York's Candice Wiggins stated. "I think it would be an amazing finals - probably one for the history books."