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Liberty’s upset bid falls just short against Mercury in WNBA playoff thriller

Liberty’s upset bid falls just short against Mercury in WNBA playoff thriller

Sophie Cunningham scored 21 points and Brianna Turner made a tiebreaking free throw with 0.4 seconds left as the host Phoenix Mercury defeated the New York Liberty 83-82 in an WNBA first-round playoff elimination game Thursday night.

Cunningham led the fifth-seeded Mercury during a third-quarter turnaround and Skylar Diggins-Smith finished with a team-high 22 points, Brittney Griner had 16 points and 10 rebounds and Turner finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and five assists.

Phoenix, which was 19-13 in the regular season, will travel to face No. 4 Seattle in second-round game Sunday. Mercury star Diana Taurasi missed a fifth consecutive game because of an ankle injury.

Betnijah Laney had a game-high 25 points, Natasha Howard had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Sabrina Ionescu added 14 points and 11 assists and Rebecca Allen scored 11 to lead the eighth-seeded Liberty, who were 12-20 in the regular season.

The score was tied five times in the fourth quarter before Howard made consecutive baskets to give New York a 75-71 lead.

WNBABetnijah Laney take a shot for the Liberty.AP

Cunningham made a 3-pointer but Allen answered with a jumper for a 77-74 lead with 2:42 remaining.

Diggins-Smith’s 3-pointer tied the score at 77 just over a minute later, but Ionescu answered with a basket for the Liberty’s final lead with 1:29 left.

Cunningham’s 3-pointer and Diggins-Smith’s layup gave Phoenix an 82-79 lead with 50.6 seconds left.

Laney’s 3-pointer tied the score with 2.7 seconds left before Turner was fouled while attempting a layup and made the second of two free throws. Ionescu’s desperation 3-pointer fell well short at the buzzer.

The Liberty increased their four-point halftime lead to seven before Cunningham converted a four-point play and made two more 3-pointers as Phoenix took a 56-52 lead.

The Mercury increased the lead to five before settling for a 60-58 lead at the end of the period.

Phoenix led by 11 points before finishing the first quarter with a 24-23 lead.

The score was tied once and the lead changed hands three times before a 5-0 run left New York with a 41-37 halftime lead.