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New York Liberty fall to Phoenix Mercury in return to MSG (Highlights)

The New York Liberty enjoyed a raucous young crowd on Tuesday morning at Madison Square Garden, but fell just short against the Phoenix Mercury.

The New York Liberty returned to Madison Square Garden for a Tuesday morning showdown with the Phoenix Mercury. While the resulting tilt more than woke up an energetic young crowd celebrating “School Day,” the Liberty found themselves on the wrong end of yet another early season thriller.

Diana Taurasi made WNBA history, becoming the first player in league history to reach 8,000 points. Her 21 points trailed only Brittney Griner on the team, the latter netting 26, as the Phoenix Mercury escaped the Garden with an 80-74 victory, ending a brief Liberty winning streak at two.

“It’s a tough one. I think we had opportunities to win this game (today),” head coach Katie Smith said. “(Phoenix) made plays we didn’t, a couple fouls, lots of little things that put us in a position (where) we couldn’t quite pull ourselves away. But lots of people obviously did some good stuff.”

Three Stars

3rd Star: Amanda Zauhi B

With Kia Nurse struggling and Kiah Stokes out with a foot injury, the Liberty needed both power off the bench and an inside prescience. Zauhi B provided both, earning nine points and eight rebounds in just under 16 minutes. Foul trouble limited her in the second half, but her impact was felt, especially on the inside, where she dealt with notoriously feisty defender Griner.

“We’re just two physical players. We’ve played against each other a couple times, in the EuroLeague, in Russia,” Zauhi B said. “We both like the physicality. That’s how we play.”

Five of Zauhi B’s rebounds were on the offensive side, part of a 19-3 New York advantage in the category.

2nd Star: Bria Hartley 

Nurse struggled after a career-day in Indiana on Saturday, going just 2-for-7 from the field. Hartley, however, picked up the slack in outside shooting, tallying 18 points, her highest output since a personal best 26 points back in June 2014. Hartley, in her second New York season, is still trying to find some solid footing in her WNBA career, but could emerge as a solid second option in Smith’s offense.

1st Star: Tina Charles

Another week, another stellar performance from Charles. She took on a bigger offensive load to counter what Griner and Taurasi were up to. She wound up putting up 25 shots, hitting 12 and concluded the day with 25 points and 12 rebounds for yet another double-double.

“I think we’re evolving. I think as long as you’re identifying the problems early on, I know we can always get better,” Charles said. “The fact we have (Smith) holding everyone accountable definitely helps each one of us.”

Charles made some history in the first quarter, shortly after Taurasi made her mark. With a jump shot late in the period, Charles passed Sheryl Swoopes for 19th in the WNBA’s all-time scoring leaders’ list. Now with 4,881 points, Charles’ next target is Taj McWilliams-Franklin (5,013).

“Just to be in the same breath, the same sentence, as Sheryl Swoopes, it’s an honor for me,” Charles said. “When I’m retired and looking back on my career, I’ll probably appreciate it more, but right now I’m trying to get a championship, whatever it takes.”

What Decided It

Though some clutch defense and shots, led by Griner, turned the tide late in the game for Phoenix, the second quarter changed the course of the outcome. Energized by a young MSG crowd, Hartley’s outside shooting, and Charles’ history, the Liberty (2-3) led by as much by eight in the early going. But a 14-3 run, kickstarted by Phoenix’s fearsome duo, killed any thoughts of a New York runaway victory. Phoenix wounded up winning the quarter 22-11, with Taurasi and Griner either scoring or assisting on all but four of the Mercury points. The Liberty’s five games have all come down to the wire, decided by a combined 27 points.

What’s Next

Tuesday started a four-game homestand for the Liberty, though the ensuing three games will be back at Westchester County Center. They’ll have a big chance to make a statement, as they welcome in the undefeated Connecticut Sun on Thursday (7:00 p.m. ET, MSG+).

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