The New York Liberty pulled off a strong push for the postseason last week, clinching the 10th and final spot in the WNBA playoffs on the last day of the regular season. A 91-80 win over the Washington Mystics saw their record improve to 12-20.
On Thursday, the Liberty travelled to Phoenix to take on the Mercury. Phoenix had a strong season slow down after losing star guard Diana Taurasi to an injury, but held the WNBA’s 5th seed in the playoffs to host the opening round matchup.
The first half started off evenly matched, as the Mercury clung to a 24-23 lead after the 1st quarter. In the second, a strong defensive effort by the Liberty held Phoenix to just 13 points, giving them a 41-37 lead at halftime.
Off the Mercury bench, it was Sophie Cunningham who put up some huge numbers, almost automatic from behind the arc. Cunningham went 6-7 from downtown, scoring 18 of her 21 points from the three, also going 3-3 at the free throw line.
The Mercury also had consistent scoring from star center Brittney Griner, who scored 16 points off 75% shooting and a perfect 100% from the line. However, it was Skylar Diggins-Smith leading all Mercury scorers with 22 points, coming up big in the absence of Taurasi.
Only Betnijah Laney of the Liberty scored more in the game, willing New York forward with 25 points on 10-22 shooting. The biggest bucket came in the dying seconds of the 4th quarter, as she pulled up from deep to sink a game-tying three pointer.
Second year star Sabrina Ionescu and forward Natasha Howard recorded double-doubles for NY. Howard was a force on the boards with 10 rebounds, also scoring 16 points. Ionescu was held to just 14 points on 5-12 shooting and 1-7 from three by some great Mercury defense, but recorded 10 assists as she opened the floor for her teammates.
Griner broke the tie in the final seconds with a pair of free throws and was the defender challenging the shooter on New York’s last effort. Ionescu’s desperate three fell short, and while there was contact with Griner, no foul was called.
The 83-82 loss ended a rather disappointing season for the Liberty, but their playoff push and first round performance shows plenty of hope for the future.
“We’re going to be back and we’re going to be really good,” promised Laney after the game. New York’s roster is young and growing, and the playoff game against Phoenix has given them valuable experience.