The sounds of supportive screams and banging ThunderStix filled Madison Square Garden courtesy of about 6,500 school kids on a field trip to see the Liberty on Tuesday. Down on the court, the home players were being given a hard test by a good team on School Day.
They didn’t pass. Phoenix turned 17 turnovers into 18 points and pulled out an 80-74 win, the Mercury’s third straight and fifth in eight games.
“Just execution and just taking care of the ball,” Tina Charles said of the main problems after contributing 25 points, passing Hall of Famer Sheryl Swoopes along the way for 19th on the WNBA’s all-time scoring list.
All three Liberty losses have been by six points or less. Both its wins have been by six points or less, too.
“We know every game is going to be close,” said Bria Hartley, the point guard from North Babylon, who scored 18, including four threes, and dished out five assists. “So we’ve just got to work on finishing out tough games like this.”
Brittney Griner, the Mercury’s 6-9 center, scored 26 points, and Diana Taurasi added 21, including 10 in the fourth quarter. The soon-to-be 36-year-old shooting guard became the first WNBA player to reach 8,000 points.
“Hopefully, the number is just there to motivate and to be broken,” Taurasi said. “That’s all a record really is, is to be broken.”
Marissa Coleman nailed a three from the left wing to put the Liberty ahead 74-73 with 3:23 left. But DeWanna Bonner, who had 18 points, countered with a three from the left corner to give the Mercury a two-point lead with 2:16 to go.
Sugar Rodgers, back after sitting out three games with a sore knee, missed threes on the next two possessions.
Griner followed with a 13-footer for a 78-74 advantage with 40.2 on the clock. Rodgers committed a turnover, and then Taurasi hit two free throws.
“There are some things we’ve just got to clean up,” said Rodgers, who made a three for her only points. “ . . . Just getting back in and making some little adjustments. Just doing all the little things.”
The Liberty led by eight early in the second quarter. It fell behind by five at the break, but trailed just 57-55 after three.
“We’ve shown we can play with anybody, but we have to make plays,” coach Katie Smith said. “We’re going to have to hit shots and get that defensive stop when needed.”
Notes & quotes: Point guard Brittany Boyd played 4:02 and scored two points in her first game since May 18, 2017, when she tore her left Achilles . . . The total crowd was 7,215 for this first of the Liberty’s two regular-season Garden games.