Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu brings the ball upcourt against Mercury...

Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu brings the ball upcourt against Mercury guard Shey Peddy during the first quarter at Barclays Center on Wednesday. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan/Joseph D. Sullivan

It was finally time during the halftime ceremony. Crystal Robinson’s name and No. 3 appeared in white lights high up at both ends of the arena. Welcome to the Liberty’s Ring of Honor.

Robinson played seven seasons for them, from 1999 through 2005. She was a 5-11 forward with a smooth three-point touch who helped the Liberty make the WNBA finals three times in her first four years, including the franchise’s last visit in 2002.

No one is counting on a 2021 edition heavy on younger players getting that far. But the Liberty are trying to claim one of the eight playoff tickets for the first time in four years.

They opened a two-game set against Phoenix at Barclays Center Wednesday night. The Robinson ceremony was one of their few highlights.

The hot Mercury won their fifth straight and handed the Liberty their third straight loss, 106-79.

"I’m dumbfounded at our lack of a sense of urgency," coach Walt Hopkins said.

Phoenix’s Big 3 of Skylar Diggins-Smith (27 points), Brittney Griner (26) and Diana Taurasi (21) paced Phoenix (14-10). Griner, though, went down and grabbed toward her left ankle before leaving for the locker room with 1:38 left. There was no word on her condition after the game.

Betnijah Laney scored 20 and fast-improving rookie DiDi Richards hit four threes and scored a career-high 14 points for the Liberty.

So they are 11-15 and still in seventh. But Dallas and Los Angeles are just .006 percentage points back and Washington is a half-game behind. The Liberty’s schedule is also a brutal obstacle course. Four of the final six are on the road, including very tough games at Minnesota, Seattle and Connecticut.

Besides that and their inconsistency, the Liberty have to overcome not having Sami Whitcomb now. The WNBA’s leader in threes sat out with an ankle sprain and is expected to miss three more games.

Still, Laney said, "If we take care of what’s in front of us, [the playoffs] will happen."

The Mercury took care of what was in front of them.

They jumped out to a 9-2 lead and built a 21-point cushion before settling for a 35-19 advantage after the first quarter.

Their shooting touch? Try 15-for-20. Diggins-Smith went 5-for-5 and scored 12.

"I thought we were awful," Hopkins said. "I thought that was the worst defensive quarter I’ve ever seen us play. Our energy was awful. Our pride was nonexistent."

By the break, Richards had 11, but the Liberty trailed 55-42.

Phoenix opened it up to 25 in the third. The Liberty cut it to 89-79 on a Laney jumper with 4:43 left. But that was as close as it got.

Afterward, Robinson spoke about being "ecstatic" over becoming the seventh Ring of Honor member, and about the current team.

She said the Liberty needed to play harder defensively. "But," she said, "I think they have all the talent to be really, really good."



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