The Phoenix Mercury brought their high-powered offense to New York City and came away with a win over the league’s top-ranked defensive team.
Candice Dupree led the way with 26 points and Diana Taurasi added 24 points to lead the Mercury to a 104-97 overtime win over the Liberty, Sunday afternoon at the Garden. The loss snaps New York’s six-game winning streak, it was their longest win streak since 2010.
The Mercury came into the day averaging 87.1 points per game this season, that is tops in the WNBA. All five Phoenix starters finished the game in double figures.
New York’s stingy defense clamped down on Phoenix in the second and third quarters of this one, however, too many defensive breakdowns led to scoring opportunities for the Mercury when it mattered most. It was, overall, an uneven showing by the Liberty.
The Liberty led 89-86, with 20.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter, when Tina Charles scored on a driving layup. Phoenix, following a 20-second timeout, went to a Taurasi for a game-tying three pointer. Taurasi, however, was fouled on the shot attempt by Tanisha Wright. The call, a questionable one by the officials, would be prove to be vital.
Taurasi, one of the league’s premier free throw shooters (89 percent this season) and clutch players, calmly sank all three free throws to tie the game at 89-89. The Liberty went to Charles for a chance at a game-winning shot, however, she came up short on her jumper.
Phoenix controlled overtime as the Liberty struggled to find their offense. Dupree’s jumper, with 46.8 seconds left, increased the Mercury’s lead to 101-95. Taurasi, a couple of plays later, would ice the game with two more free throws.
Charles led the way, for the Liberty, with 26 points, eight rebounds, and five assists. Sugar Rodgers added 23 points, including five three-pointers, in the loss.
The Mercury, 27 for 33 from the foul line, were clutch when it mattered most. Taurasi’s three free throws, near the end of regulation, sent the game into overtime. Phoenix went 5 for 6 from the line, in the extra period, which kept New York at arm’s length.
There were a number of questionable calls throughout the game, which the 9,591 in attendance did not approve of. If there is such a thing as getting a benefit of the doubt on foul calls, the Liberty were left out of that conversation in this one.
“It’s frustrating,” said Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer afterwards. “Because we were playing with our defense and they just kept making it from the free throw line.”
Phoenix raced out to a 22-11 advantage with excellent ball movement on offense. Diana Taurasi scored Phoenix’s first eight points, including two consecutive three-pointers to start the game. Brittney Griner went right to work, on Carolyn Swords in the paint, for the Mercury. Swords picked up two early fouls, trying to guard Griner, and went to the bench for Kiah Stokes.
The Liberty, with the Mercury’s hot shooting cooling off in the second quarter, picked up the pace with an 8-0 run to tie the game at 28-28. Griner was called for her third foul with Phoenix leading 41-35. The Liberty took advantage, with Griner on the bench, outscoring the Mercury, 12-5, to take a 47-46 lead into halftime.
New York, perhaps looking to keep Griner in foul trouble, came out in the third quarter with a more physical approach on defense. The Liberty made Griner work, on defense, by having her fight through numerous screens and keeping her from hitting the boards.
New York’s defense began to take control of the game. Brittany Boyd stole the ball from Candice Dupree and converted a layup giving the Liberty a 61-55 lead, with 1:49 left in the third. New York would push their lead back up to 10 heading into the fourth.
The Liberty held Phoenix to 29.4 percent shooting from the field, in the third.
New York drops to 10-5 on the season, while the Mercury improved to 6-9.
The Liberty celebrated it’s 20th season anniversary with a reunion of the inaugural 1997 team on hand and introduced to the Garden crowd before the game. Rebecca Lobo, Sue Wicks, Kym Hampton, Sophia Witherspoon, Teresa Weatherspoon, and all but one of the member of the ’97 team were on hand.
UConn Women’s Basketball head coach Geno Auriemma was among the celebrities in attendance at the Garden. The Lady Huskies were well represented, on and off the court. Tina Charles, Swin Cash, and Kiah Stokes all played at UConn. Liberty legend Rebecca Lobo and Diana Taurasi, of the Phoenix Mercury, also went to the powerhouse program.
Phoenix point guard Lindsey Harding played nearly 12 minutes off the bench. She was held scoreless on 0 for 3 shooting from the field. Harding was waived earlier this season by the Liberty.
New York will begin a three-game road trip Wednesday at Minnesota. The Liberty will head to Phoenix and Los Angeles before coming back to the Garden, July 6, to host Seattle.