WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — It sure looked inevitable as the loss total began to rise higher and higher, and it finally became a total loss.
The Liberty officially were eliminated from playoff contention Tuesday night. Phoenix beat them, 95-82, at Westchester County Center behind 29 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks from Brittney Griner and a career-high 29 points from Leilani Mitchell.
The Mercury are 14-15 and still trying to nail down a playoff spot. The Liberty, bound for the lottery for the second straight year, fell to 9-21 with four to play. They have dropped three straight and 14 of 16.
“As a professional athlete, you want to go out there and play on the biggest stage and you want to play in the playoffs,” Bria Hartley said after scoring 18 points. “So it’s definitely tough.”
The Liberty led 63-59 in the third after Tina Charles hit a jumper over Griner. But the Mercury responded with a quarter-closing 17-6 run to go up 76-69. They led by 12 early in the fourth. Amanda Zahui B., who also scored 18, converted a three and a layup to cut it to 83-76. But Mitchell soon hit two of her five threes. The margin swelled to 13.
Back in the opening quarter, Griner went down after a knee-to-knee collision. The 6-9 center clutched her right knee and ultimately limped off with 43.5 seconds left.
But Griner returned 1:37 into the second quarter and moved well. The Liberty hung in there despite her 19 points in the first half. They fell behind 37-27, but trailed only 49-46 at the break. Then the Liberty allowed 46 points.
“When you give up 95 points,” Hartley said, “it’s hard to win a basketball game.”
Han Xu didn’t get in, but coach Katie Smith said she wants to give more time to the slender 6-9 rookie, who has averaged only 7.1 minutes in 14 games. Smith said Han has been spending time in the weight room.
“She can score from all levels and understands how to score,” Smith said. “She’s not a bad defender. It’s just a little bit of that being able to hold your ground . . . ”