Joyner Holmes history not enough for New York Liberty

(Photo: Geoff Magliocchetti)

Joyner Holmes led a stellar day off the bench for the New York Liberty, but another tough loss awaited nonetheless.

Rookie history wasn’t enough to keep the New York Liberty away from another tough loss as their WNBA bubble experience comes close to popping.

Joyner Holmes became the first New York rookie to register a double-double with at least 13 points and 13 rebounds, but the Phoenix Mercury countered with a season-best 30 points from Skylar Diggins-Smith en route to an 83-67 victory in Bradenton. Phoenix also enjoyed 15 points from Shatori Walker-Kimbrough and 13 rebounds from Brianna Turner.

“I knew I had to show up for my teammates in general. I think I did a pretty good job of that tonight,” Holmes said. “I really enjoy (the coach’s system). We just got to find our spots and keep moving. We can’t become stagnant, because that’s when we take possessions off. But, in general, I think the system is really good, especially with the players that we have. We can get good shots.”

The theme of growth continued in another loss for the Liberty (2-16). New York shot 4-of-32 from three-point range but Hopkins was pleased with the team’s lack of resistance to shoot with open looks. He made it clear that he was unwilling to trade instant wins for future development through his offensive gameplan.

“We’re generating so many good looks. There’s so many good looks from three,” Hopkins said. “Our percentage wasn’t stellar, and it’s gotten worse. But the thing we’re trying to get to here is a way to determine how to get those looks when we do have our fresh legs and shooters in there. They’re really doing a great job creating these shots. They’re just not dropping.”

“The fact they’re staying confident and continuing to shoot those shots is great. It’s frustrating to not make them. I’m as frustrated as anybody that they’re not going down. But I’m also probably more proud than most people because they’re sticking with it. That says a lot. They’re sticking with the system on both ends.”

Saturday’s effort was helped by the bench. The Liberty scored 42 off the bench with Holmes reaching double figures with Kia Nurse (11) and Jazmine Jones (10). New York’s bench efforts became necessary after further tough injury breaks. Starter Paris Kea was forced to leave the game in the first quarter after

Holmes took center stage in the fight, making team history in the process. By the end of the third quarter, Holmes’ rebound tally of 13 tied a New York rookie record previously set by DeTrina White back in 2004. Her matching point and rebound tallies were good for career-highs. Holmes was originally drafted by Seattle in the second round of April’s draft and joined with the Liberty after her release.

The historic rebounding effort headlined a strong night on the boards overall. New York had a season-high 21 rebounds, led by six from Jocelyn Willoughby (who had a career-high nine rebounds total. Yet another rookie, Leaonna Odom, had seven rebounds and earned strong reviews for the defensive job she did on Phoenix’s legendary shooter Diana Taurasi. With Odom covering her, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer had only nine points, her first game under 10 since July 29.

Phoenix (12-7) used efforts from former Liberty representatives to their advantage. Walker-Kimbrough was originally part of the Liberty’s haul from Washington in the trade that sent Tina Charles to the nation’s capital but she was later dealt on draft night for the rights to Willoughby. Bronx native and former Liberty first-round choice Kia Vaughn had 12 points to go with eight rebounds. The Mercury are currently fighting for one of the WNBA’s top playoff spots and currently sit a game-and-a-half out of fourth place, which would net them a first-round bye. Saturday’s loss officially eliminated the Liberty from playoff contention.

The Liberty begin their final stages of the bubble endeavor on Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Sparks (7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Go/CBSSN). Los Angeles previously took a 93-78 decision on August 11.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags