The New York Liberty were able to pull out a close win against the Phoenix Mercury. This was the Liberty’s first series sweep of the Mercury since 2012.
The New York defense kept the Liberty even with the Mercury, but it was their aggression on offense late in the game that propelled them to the 75-73 win Saturday night.
The New York (10-5) guards began slicing into the lane early in the fourth quarter, landing the Phoenix in foul trouble and themselves at the free-throw line. New York went 21-of-27 from the charity stripe while Phoenix (9-6) attempted just 14 (12-of-14).
Those offensive moves were sparked on the defensive end. Phoenix had been making sloppy passes throughout the night, and Boyd began interrupting those lanes, scoring two steals in the final 1:01.
“We know we can hang our hat on defense; we know we can get stops, and we know we can get rebounds,” Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer said. “It’s just a matter of finding a way to score. We struggled tonight to score for a while for a variety of reasons, but we know our defense will keep up in any game as long as we keep our poise and composure.”
Boyd scored 11 of her 13 points off the bench in the fourth quarter, and it was the layup on her first steal that pulled the Liberty within 70-71. Epiphanny Prince’s driving layup 31 seconds later, gave the Liberty a 72-71 lead.
But the Mercury weren’t done yet. Brittney Griner made a seven-foot turnaround jumper straight off the inbounds pass with three seconds left to play, evening the score at 73.
Prince lobbed up a desperation shot just inside the arc, drawing the slightest foul on DeWanna Bonner. Prince went two-for-two from the line before stealing the Hail Mary inbounds pass the other way, securing the win.
“They just ran a play for me to either score or hit Tina (Charles) on the block and Tina came and set a screen, I saw Brittney (Griner) deep in the paint so I just wanted to try and go in there and score or get some contact,” Prince said of her go-ahead basket.
Prince finished with a season-high 17 points, and Tina Charles led the Liberty with 18 en route to the team’s first season sweep over the Mercury since 2012. The loss ended Phoenix’s six-game winning streak.
“We have to execute down the stretch—we had two or three turnovers towards the end that kind of gave them momentum—I think that’s what caused the game,” Bonner, who finished with 10 points, said. “We tied it up, but she got fouled at the end of the game but definitely the turnovers towards the end. We didn’t execute very well.”
Along with the free-throw margin, the Liberty also dominated the rebounding margin, pulling down 45 to Phoenix’s 29. New York outrebounded Phoenix 17-5 on the offensive boards alone.
“A hallmark of a great defensive team is field-goal percentage against and rebounding. Our team is built that way,” Laimbeer said. “We know that we’re going to be sound on defense and get the rebounds. We have quality rebounders; our guards can rebound. We know how important it is in the game of basketball, and that’s one of our traits.”
Charles said their energy on the floor Saturday was fueled by a previous loss.
“We were just very determined. We didn’t want to lose this one,” she said. “We played against Atlanta, and we lost a close game earlier, a couple of weeks ago, so the fact that we were able to come out and get this win, which was like a playoff atmosphere, and I’m just happy we were the ones able to come out with the victory.”
Mercury head coach Sandy Brondello said her team was not able to match that energy.
“I just don’t think we had the appropriate energy we have had in previous games with playing with a little bit more sense of urgency and our executions—both offensively and defensively,” she said. “When you’re on the back foot, especially against a team that rebounds the ball so well, that was tough for us.
“We should have won—the turnovers really hurt us down the stretch.”