DULUTH, Ga. (AP) — Another WNBA championship for the Minnesota Lynx. Another three-game sweep of the Atlanta Dream in the finals.
Maya Moore, though, says that nothing came too easily for the Lynx.
"That's what a championship is supposed to be," she said. "It's supposed to be hard, and when it got hard, we came together and stuck with it and secured that victory. I'm just really proud."
Moore scored 23 points, Rebekkah Brunson had 15 points and 12 rebounds and the Lynx beat the Dream 86-77 on Thursday night to win their second WNBA title in three years.
Tiffany Hayes finished with 20 points and Alex Bentley had 18 in reserve roles for Atlanta, which was swept in the best-of-5 finals for the third time in four years.
Moore was playing at the Gwinnett Arena for the first time since leading nearby Collins Hill H.S. to the last of three consecutive state championships in 2007, and she had strong support from the suburban Atlanta crowd.
Moore, the WNBA rookie of the year three years ago after helping Connecticut win two straight national championships, was a big reason why the Lynx won their first championship in 2011.
This time, she was named the finals MVP as Minnesota became the second team to go unbeaten in seven playoff games and win a championship, joining the 2010 Seattle Storm.
"I have so many people around me that I appreciate and who have helped me so much from middle school to high school," Moore said. "I'm sure there's some Connecticut faithfuls here, too, but when you think about all the things you want your team to be - we don't just talk about it. We do it."
Lindsay Whalen scored 15 points and Seimone Augustus had 14 for the Lynx, who improved to 14-6 on the road this year.
The Dream cut the lead to three points early in the third quarter, but Moore came off a screen on the next possession and hit a 3-pointer to make it 45-39. She and Brunson combined for 19 of Minnesota's 26 points in the third.
Atlanta forward Angel McCoughtry, the WNBA's two-time defending scoring champion, finished with 13 points - a career low in nine finals games - and shot just 28.5 percent in the series.
The Dream, forced to move the elimination game to the northern suburbs with their home court booked for an ice skating event, dropped to 6-16 outside Philips Arena.
Injuries dragged on Atlanta all season, the worst of which was the loss of forward Sancho Lyttle in midseason.
"It's tough, but we're not going to make that an excuse," McCoughtry said. "I'm pretty sure Minnesota has injuries, too. They're beat up just as bad as you are. But it takes mental toughness to fight through. It's a long season, and most of play overseas, too. I'm proud of everyone to be strong and fight hard."
Minnesota never trailed and made life tough on them from the start. By the 4:52 mark of the first quarter, the Dream had committed five turnovers and was 1 for 5 from the field when coach Fred Williams called a timeout with Atlanta trailing 13-3.
After McCoughtry scored inside to make it 47-42 early in the third, the Dream missed six of their next seven shots and committed four turnovers on their next eight possessions.
Monica Wright followed with a three-point play put the Lynx up by 16.
Augustus was grateful to return to the top after losing the finals in four games last year to Indiana.
"I'm sorry if we make it look easy, but it's very hard to get back here," said Augustus, the 2011 finals MVP. "Look at what Washington did this year, what Chicago did this year. We're just lucky to be in this position, and we're willing to sacrifice some parts of their game to make this team better."
Atlanta cut the lead to eight early in the fourth, but Devereaux Peters, standing at the top of the key, hit Moore with a backdoor pass for a layup that made it 68-58.
"We know it's not going to be perfect, but the sign of a mature championship team is `How are you going to get through those tough moments?'" Moore said. "And that's what we did."
Photo: AP Photo/John Bazemore