NEWARK -- Liberty guard Katie Smith was showered with gifts and highlights in a ceremony before her last-ever, regular-season home game in the WNBA Tuesday night.

The league's second all-time leading scorer came out hot in the first quarter, hoping to keep the Liberty's playoff dreams alive and prolong her career.

The Liberty hung with the Phoenix Mercury late into the game but eventually fell, 80-76, at the Prudential Center. Smith finished with 17 points, shooting 6-for-16 from the field and 3-for-3 from the free-throw line.

The Liberty needed to win its final three games and have the Washington Mystics lose its final three contests to qualify for the playoffs.

"We had a talk the other day about our lack of continuous efforts for four quarters and I thought tonight we came out with the effort necessary to win a basketball game," Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said. "They made some shots and we didn't, but I think the fans appreciated the effort we put forth tonight."

The Liberty trailed 28-16 after the first quarter despite a 13-1 offensive rebound advantage. That was in part because the Liberty shot only 29.2 percent from the field and allowed Phoenix to shoot 10-for-13, a blistering 77 percent.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Despite the slow start, the Liberty hung around in the second half and nearly erased a six-point deficit over the final 2:13.

Delisha Milton-Jones scored a basket inside with 45 seconds remaining to cut the deficit to two points and the Liberty had a chance to tie the score with 9.3 seconds remaining.

But an errant inbounds pass was intercepted by Briana Gilbreath and Diana Taurasi (17 points, nine rebounds, six assists) hit two free throws to provide the final margin.

"It was a great night, a lot of fun," Smith said. "There was a little reminiscing on the old footage and then we battled. Yeah, we lost but it was the effort, the everybody still coming to play that's something to build off of."