Minnesota Lynx’s Maya Moore, center, a Collins Hill graduate raises a No. 1 gesture while celebrating with her teammates after defeating the Atlanta Dream in game 3 of the WNBA Finals at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth Thursday. The Lynx defeated the Dream to become WNBA Champions. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
DULUTH — The change of scenery didn't help the Atlanta Dream much in Game 3 of their WNBA Finals series against the Minnesota Lynx.
With Philips Arena unavailable and the game moved out to Gwinnett County, Lawrenceville native Maya Moore enjoyed her homecoming considerably better by leading all scorers with 23 points in leading the Lynx to a sweep of the best-of-five series with an 86-77 win Thursday night before 5,040 fans at the Arena at Gwinnett Center.
All five Minnesota starters scored in double figures, including Rebekkah Brunson, who had a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds, as the Lynx wrapped up their second WNBA championship in the last three seasons.
"It means the world," said Moore, who was named the series' Most Valuable Player, of the title. "We had ups and downs. I mean, it wasn't easy. That's what a championship's supposed to be. It's supposed to be hard, and when it got hard, we came together and we stuck with it and secured that victory."
Both of those titles have come at the expense of the Dream, who have lost in the finals three of the past four years.
"I felt that we really fought hard," Dream coach and general manager Fred Williams said after the Dream were swept for the third time in as many title series appearances. "I have to commend Minnesota on the shooting and the talent they have on that club. They played great basketball throughout the year and throughout the series. For our young ladies to be hobbled and crippled and beat down a little bit, and to get back up and trying to compete for another game … I thought they all tried to make that happen in this game."
After committing turnovers on their first two possessions and Moore picking up her first personal foul just 40 seconds after the opening tip, the Lynx still got rolling quickly.
A trio of jumpers by Janel McCarville was part of a 6 of 9 shooting start from the floor for Minnesota over the first 5:08.
Combined with a defensive effort that held the Dream to just 1 of 5 shooting and five turnover in that span, the hot-shooting start helped the Lynx built a 13-3 lead with 4:52 left in the first quarter.
"I think with Minnesota, you can't get down on them early," Williams said. "They are a good first-quarter team to build a lead anywhere. I thought in some of our (early) possessions, we were really over excited of trying to do the right thing in those first five minutes, and it helped Minnesota build a lead."
But the Dream slowly started to scrap their way back into the game in the second quarter.
Atlanta made a couple of runs to pull as close as two points, the second time at 32-30 on Angel McCoughtry's 3-pointer form the left wing with 3:57 left in the half.
And even after Minnesota built the lead back to eight late in the half, the Dream kept fighting back.
And when Alex Bentley completed a three-point play with her free throw with three seconds with left in the half, Atlanta was able to go into intermission down just 40-37.
But with the deficit still just three at 42-39 early in the third quarter, Moore jump started Minnesota again.
The Collins Hill grad and third-year veteran out of UConn hit a 3-pointer that ignited a 9-3 run over the next 2:06.
The run ended with McCarville's steal and nifty pass in transition to Brunson, who hit the basket and completed the three-point play fate being fouled to push the Lynx's lead back to nine at 51-42 with 6:39 left in the third quarter.
Things got even tougher for the Dream when de Souza was forced to the bench after picking up her fourth foul less than a minute later at the 5:48 mark.
McCoughtry temporarily halted the Minnesota surge with a 13-foot jumper to pull the Dream to within seven at 51-44.
But Moore answered with a pair of free throws, and Monica Wright dished off to Brunson for a jumper and added a three-point play on a baseline jumper and a free throw to give the Lynx their biggest lead of the game to that point at 60-44 with 3:19 left in the quarter.
"We know it's not always going to be perfect," Moore said. "But the sign of a mature, championship team is how are you going to get through those tough moments. That's what we did. We had several tough moments where (the Dream) were hitting uncharacteristic jumpers with a hand in their face, and we just had to keep playing. … And when it counted, we got the stops we needed."
Still, the Dream had one last run left in them, as Tiffany Hayes struck for seven points to lead a 9-4 run over the final 2:32 of the period to pull Atlanta to within 10 at 66-56 heading into the fourth quarter.
And when Hayes drained a 3-pointer from the right wing with 7:31 to play, the Dream had cut the Minnesota lead to 68-61.
But they would get no closer, as every time Atlanta tried to make a further move, Moore and the Lynx had an answer.
The 6-foot wing drained a 3-pointer, hit two free throws and Seimone Augustus for a jumper over a 1:50 span that pushed the Minnesota lead back to nine points at 72-63 with 6:48 left.
Hayes finished with 20 points to lead the Dream, while Alex Bentley added 18 points, McCoughtry had 13 and de Souza chipped in 12.
Joining Moore and Brunson in double figures were Lindsay Whalen, who had 15 points and six assists, Augustus (14 points) and McCarville (10).
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