NEWARK -- With 5:05 remaining on the halftime clock, Cappie Pondexter strode out of the locker room to take practice jumpers on an empty court. She shot alone before a teammate joined her.
Pondexter, the team's leading scorer, understands how dependent the Liberty can be on her right fingertips. If Pondexter's not making shots, it can make for long evenings. Saturday night's game against the Phoenix Mercury had that sort of feel.
Pondexter never heated up, her teammates couldn't buoy her, and the Liberty fell, 91-84, at the Prudential Center. Despite a late rally by the Liberty -- which cut its deficit to two with 1:20 remaining -- two clutch scores by the Mercury's Diana Taurasi slammed the door on a night in which explanations were few.
Penny Taylor scored 29 points for the Mercury and Taurasi added 16.
Nicole Powell had 16 points and Pondexter and Plenette Pierson added 13 each for the Liberty (10-8).
Shooting and turnovers were about all that kept the Liberty from an otherwise complete performance against a veteran Mercury team coming off three straight losses.
The Liberty outworked the Mercury (11-7) on the offensive glass, played with energy and had open opportunities to score. But shots wouldn't fall. And the defense wasn't there to bail out the Liberty as it has done in the past.
The Mercury shot 50.9 percent and made seven three-pointers. For the first time since June 30, a Liberty opponent scored more than 80 points.
Despite the shooting struggles, the Liberty had a late chance to tie the score, but with the Mercury ahead by two, an offensive foul by Essence Carson with 51.7 seconds remaining gave the ball back to Phoenix. Taurasi then scooped in a tough layup with 32 seconds left and followed that with a game-sealing three-pointer.
The Liberty led for most of the first half before a late 10-0 run by the Mercury. The Liberty trailed 42-36 despite outrebounding the Mercury by seven and attempting 13 more shots.
Phoenix is a veteran team -- each starter has been in the league at least five years -- and so the Mercury never looked rattled when the Liberty went ahead by seven midway through the second quarter. And Phoenix came out of halftime with the proper adjustments.
While the first half was defined by long runs -- each team held leads of at least seven points -- in the second half the teams seemed tethered to each other. Baskets consistently went back and forth and neither team went ahead by more than a few points.
Even when the Mercury seemed on the verge of sealing it late in the fourth, the Liberty stormed back to within striking range.
In the end, though, it was the Mercury that had the right shooting touch at the right time.