Tina Charles was unhappy, coach Bill Laimbeer said. Offensively, she didn't produce to the caliber to which she was accustomed. She did well on defense, she acknowledged, but she could have done more.

To clarify: She notched her second double-double of this young season Thursday night, led the Liberty in scoring, and now has 75 points over four games.

Tina Charles has high standards, and the Liberty is reaping all the benefits.

After a self-diagnosed lackluster first half, the Liberty won a 68-57 battle of attrition against the Mercury at the Garden, improving to 3-1. Charles led the Liberty with 19 points and 11 rebounds, and she's been the leading team scorer every game this season.

"She said she [stunk] offensively," Laimbeer said, a nod to a few missed open shots in the first half. "I told her, 'You did . . . but you made good plays [when it] counted . . . She has so much more in her on both sides of the ball, and if that happens, watch out for the New York Liberty."

Regardless, watch out.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Though Phoenix kept it close for the first half, it was always the Liberty's game to lose, starting off with a game-opening 6-0 run. They ended the quarter with a 16-11 lead, keyed by Charles' jumper with a minute to go. Essence Carson finished with 10 points.

DeWanna Bonner had 22 points to lead the Mercury, which never led.

The story was the defense -- particularly how the Liberty outrebounded the Mercury by a whopping 51-27 margin. Carson had 11.

"Our defense is pretty solid," Laimbeer said. "We weren't mentally sharp in the first half . . . and I made it very clear to them at halftime that this was not acceptable."

The change seemed immediate. The Mercury drew to within a point on Bonner's three-pointer late in the second quarter and her free throw tied it with 1:16 to go, but Kiah Stokes (six points, 11 rebounds) banked a jumper with 25 seconds left before the break to give the Liberty a 25-23 lead.

After the half, that was all the spark the Liberty needed, as it kicked off the third on a 10-2 run, with big contributions from Charles (a hook shot to open the scoring, and a jumper later on in the run), and Carson (four points in the stretch). The Liberty led by as many as 10 in the third and closed off the quarter with a nine-point lead, ended by Sugar Rodgers' runner with about five seconds left.

"I said, who are you?," Laimbeer said of his halftime motivations. "Are you going to be last year's team that would have lost this game?

"They stood up and said no."