The New York Liberty suffered a tough 76-64 loss to the Phoenix Mercury, who have the best record in the WNBA at 27-4, on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Liberty hung in early, trailing just 25-20 at the end of the first quarter. They cut Phoenix’s lead to three, at 33-30, on an Essence Carson jumper with 3:31 left in the second quarter. The Mercury responded with a 10-0 run to close the quarter, capped by a Taurasi three to make it 43-30, the halftime score. They never looked back, as the second half was played basically even, with the Liberty outscoring them 18-17 in the third and they had 16 points each in the fourth.
The Liberty shot just 36.8 percent from the field, or 28-for-76 from the field. They were led by Tina Charles, who had 26 points on 11-for-22 shooting and 12 rebounds. The only other player in double figures for the Liberty was Cappie Pondexter, who had 12 points on 6-for-17 from the field.
Liberty Head Coach Bill Laimbeer said after the game, “It is what it is right now. We’re working our way through, try to get the most out of it. The effort was there tonight. I thought our team effort solid across the board. I can take a loss like this all day because we competed. We played hard start to finish, we just didn’t have the horsepower to get it done.”
Laimbeer continued, “Our offense is just fine. We’re experiencing what we experienced all year long. We lack scorers. We knew it coming into the season, it showed itself during the season, and it continues to show itself. We don’t shoot a good percentage. We get good looks and we just don’t make them. Part of that is we don’t have some of those players. Certain players are finding their way or not finding their way right now as WNBA players. We have a lot of players on this roster who we are having to count on that haven’t had any experience in the past of any magnitude are being put in the position of being counted upon, and we’re finding out who can and who can’t be counted upon.”
The Liberty fell to 13-18, and are in a battle for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with just three games left in the regular season. The top four teams in each conference make it, and Chicago and Indiana entered Tuesday tied for third place at 14-17, with the Liberty right behind them in fifth.
The Liberty play at Indiana on Thursday night at 7:00 and at Washington on Saturday at 7:00, and play the season finale at The Garden on Sunday night at 6:00 p.m.
Laimbeer said of the playoff picture, “We win out, we’re in, we know that. Tonight’s win would have put us in a different scenario with different tie-breakers, but we know what’s in front of us now. There aren’t many scenarios where we can lose one game down the stretch and still get in, it can’t be Washington. We win out, we’re in I think, that’s the way it looks to me, something weird may happen like get busted in a three or four-way tiebreaker but we know what we have to do.”
The Mercury improved to 27-4 and the secret to their success is they run a very fast-paced, up-tempo offense that is highly entertaining to watch.
The Mercury feature UConn alum Diana Taurasi at point guard and she had a great game with 14 points and 4 assists. She was one of five Mercury players in double figures, joined by center Brittney Griner, in her second year out of Baylor, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds; Candice Dupree had 18 points and 10 rebounds, Penny Taylor had 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists; and Erin Phillips had 11 points and an assist off the bench.
Taurasi said of their fast-tempo offense, “It’s pretty much take advantage of the skill we have at every position and we try to do that the whole game, try to tire out other teams, make sure everyone touches the ball. Pretty much the open shot is the hot hand and that’s how we’ve been playing all year and it’s been pretty successful for us.”
Taurasi said of playing at The Garden, “There’s a lot of familiar faces that came up from Connecticut, so it was cool to see them. We only come here once a year, so the long trip yesterday, we got to enjoy tonight and we head out tomorrow, so it was fun to be in town for a bit.”
One of the UConn people on hand for the game was Women’s Head Coach Geno Auriemma. Taurasi said of Geno, “We’re going to dinner right now, so we’ll get a chance to catch up over a bottle of wine.”
Taurasi said of locking up home court in the playoffs, “It feels good, it’s a lot of hard work and it pays off. It goes a long way in the playoffs we know being at home is a big advantage. We still have to go in and win the game, but it’s good to have it.”
Taurasi said of Liberty legend Becky Hammon becoming an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs, “That’s huge, especially in San Antonio with Pop (Head Coach Gregg Popovich), a guy who doesn’t bullshit. He’s not gonna just hire someone for some women’s rights stuff. He’s doing it for someone who knows basketball and obviously has proven that she can handle the load.”
On if a woman will ever play in the NBA, Taurasi said, “I don’t know, I think that’s a ways away. We need all the good players to play in the WNBA for now…It could happen. If you take somebody at BG’s (Brittney Griner) size (6’8″) with a little bit more guard skill and athleticism, it could happen.”