Big performances highlight Mercury win over Liberty, 80-74

Kia Vaughn snags a rebound and prepares to pass. Photo by John Peralta.
Kia Vaughn snags a rebound and prepares to pass. Photo by John Peralta.

Madison Square Garden, N.Y. – A battle between the struggling New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury went down to the wire Tuesday afternoon, with Phoenix edging out New York, 80-74.

The showcase fight was in the post, as Mercury center Brittney Griner had 26 points and Liberty center Tina Charles scored 25. In the process of putting up 21 points, Griner’s teammate Diana Taurasi notched 8,000 career points – the first player in WNBA history to do so. DeWanna Bonner added 18 for the visitors.

“They are pretty special, aren’t they,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said of her three top scorers. “I’m really proud of the effort. We got fatigued there a little bit, but it’s good to win on the road. We need to win as many as we can. We have nine games on the road in June.”

Both teams came into the match up riding a two-game winning streak after suffering consecutive losses. New York came out of the gate aggressively, outworking Phoenix on the offensive glass, 13-3 after the first quarter, but they could not sustain that momentum.

Despite strong individual showings, the Mercury continue to struggle as a whole in other facets of the game: they were heavily out-rebounded, 39-21, and were dominated in second-chance point opportunities, 16-2.

The Liberty have had road bumps too, with three starters out injured. Two of them – Sugar Rodgers and Brittany Boyd – returned to the court against Phoenix. Boyd tore her Achilles tendon in May, 2017, and hadn’t played since. Still out is Epiphanny Prince, who sustained a concussion just before returning from overseas play, and center Kiah Stokes, who has a foot injury.

The roster also includes several newcomers. Fitting together the pieces has been a challenge.

“It’s a lot of new faces, we are trying to learn each other and new coach. We do have a great team from top to bottom and no matter who we put on the floor they can make an impact,” veteran forward Marissa Coleman said. “It’s just going to take time and it’s still really early. We had a lot of turnovers in crucial times and not executing plays well. The thing is, it’s all correctable and it’s on us.”

Charles also took accountability.

“It wasn’t about Taurasi or Griner going off, everything is just in our control,” she said. “Just executing at the end, locking down, playing defense and just the little things. We just hurt ourselves.”

Coach Katie Smith acknowledged that adjustments have to be made.

“I hope it shows us that all of the little stuff that happens throughout the ball game really does matter,” Smith said.” A couple fewer turnovers, a couple more shots, rebounds, or just a couple better defensive assignments. They all are that important for the outcome.”

Boyd played just four minutes in the match up, and scored two points. She is taking a cautious approach in her re-emergence.

“I’m just staying in the gym and continuing to work hard,” Boyd said. “I have a long season ahead of me so I’m just taking my time.”

Taurasi, who has played for the Mercury since they drafted her 14 years ago, said she was grateful to get the points record for the franchise.

“After playing with so many players, and so many coaches. I am happy I got to do it here with a Phoenix jersey on,” Taurasi said. “I think that probably means more than all the points and all the championships I have. They took a chance on me in 2004 and they’ve had my back through a whole lot of stuff.”

Also moving up on the career points ladder in the game was Charles, who scored her 4,876th career point to move past Sheryl Swoopes on the all-time scoring list. She is now 19th.

New York, now 2-3, host the Eastern Conference powerhouse Connecticut Sun Thursday, while 5-3 Phoenix returns home to host the Chicago Sky on Friday.