Tough showings in the first and final frames doomed the New York Liberty on Sunday. It was their first full showdown sans Sabrina Ionescu.
The bookend quarters of a Sunday afternoon showdown with the Phoenix Mercury doomed the New York Liberty. In the first and final frames, Phoenix outpaced New York by a 59-23 margin in the Bradenton bubble in those timeframes. Those bursts over two separate 10-minute spans allowed them to coast to a 96-67 triumph.
Sunday marked the Liberty’s first full game without top overall pick Sabrina Ionescu, who was relegated to the bench two days after suffering a sprained ankle against Atlanta on Friday. Ionescu was certainly missed on the floor at crucial stages of the game.
Phoenix jumped out to an early lead, capping off the first quarter with a 25-12 lead. The Liberty were able to keep the deficit at a relatively stable 41-27 despite earning only eight conversions from the field and earning a majority of their points from the foul line. New York also failed to hit any of their 16 three-point attempts in the first half.
In the third, the undermanned Liberty (0-4) made things interesting by taking advantage of foul trouble from Brittney Griner and Sophie Cunningham by attacking the interior and whittling a 16-point Phoenix lead to as little as two. Late antics from Diana Taurasi pushed Phoenix’s lead back to seven at 62-55, but there was still a chance for a decent showing.
Alas for New York, the Mercury (2-2) instantly took advantage of Griner’s reinsertion. She opened the quarter with a pair of three-point plays, setting the pace for a quarter that Phoenix won by a 34-11 margin. Former Liberty starter Bria Hartley set a career-best in scoring for the second straight game with 27 points (10-of-18 FG) off the bench while Taurasi fell just short of a double-double (18 points, 9 rebounds).
The Liberty were paced by Kia Nurse with 17 points. They shot 24 percent from the field overall with only Kylee Shook (3-of-6) getting to at least a 50-percent conversation rate.
New York and Phoenix will meet for a rematch in September. The Liberty return to action on Wednesday night against the Minnesota Lynx (7 p.m. ET, CBSSN/Fox Sports Go).
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags