Sabrina Ionescu of the Liberty dribbles against the Phoenix Mercury at...

Sabrina Ionescu of the Liberty dribbles against the Phoenix Mercury at Barclays Center on Wednesday, May 29, 2024.  Credit: Errol Anderson

It tipped off with the Seattle game, with winning “ugly” in the words of Liberty coach Sandy Brondello. Then it continued with losing ugly against Chicago and Minnesota.

“We started off (the season) well,” Brondello said, “but there’s always wrinkles you need to iron out.”

The Liberty still looked wrinkled at times against Phoenix Wednesday night at Barclays Center, turning over a 15-point first-half lead.

But they stopped the slide, managing to pull out an 81-78 win and move to 5-2 after Sabrina Ionescu contributed 22 points and nine assists and Jonquel Jones scored 10 of her 20 points in the fourth.

“We had some bad patches,” Brondello said. “ . . . But we stayed composed and poised and together . . . We managed to grind out a really good win for us.”

They have had issues with turnovers and three-point shooting.

This time, they were down to 11 turnovers. But after a 6-for-9 first quarter from beyond the arc, they finished just 9-for-32, aka 28.1%.

“I think overall we’re getting good looks,” said Betnijah Laney-Hamilton, who scored 15 but was 1-for-4 on threes. “We’ve just got to stay confident and they will fall.”

The Mercury (3-4) were without Brittney Griner, who fractured a toe in the preseason. Natasha Cloud scored 21 points, Kahleah Copper had 20 and the nearly 42-year-old Diana Taurasi had 14 for them.

“She’s one of the reasons why I got excited about this job, the opportunity to coach her and to be able to tell my daughters that I coached the greatest of all time,” Phoenix coach Nate Tibbetts said.

Taurasi nailed back-to-back threes to start the final quarter, providing the Mercury with a 65-60 lead.

The Liberty countered with a 9-0 run. Then Phoenix responded with a 7-0 run to go up 72-69 with 3:32 left.

It was 74-71 Mercury before Jones converted a layup and Courtney Vandersloot made a steal and a free throw to tie it.

Jones, who was plagued by foul trouble the previous two games, was fouled in the act with 1:09 left. She made both free throws to give the Liberty a 76-74 edge.

“I think it was just that we had a different level of intention . . . them giving me time to post up and really seal,” the 6-6 center said of the Liberty looking for her inside more in the fourth.

Copper missed from in close, and Laney-Hamilton hit a shot from around the foul line for a four-point lead with 30.9 seconds remaining. Copper then lost the ball out of bounds while going to the basket.

And Ionescu clinched it with two free throws for an 80-74 advantage.

“We had some lapses, but I think overall our defense was really solid,” Laney-Hamilton said.

The Liberty owned a 15-point lead late in the first quarter and early in the second. But Phoenix had it down to 47-44 at halftime.

“We just competed way harder today,” Brondello said, citing the defense especially. “It’s probably more offensively we can get better at, and that’s what we’ll work on.”



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