Katie Smith
AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Another resilient effort from the New York Liberty wasn’t enough to stave off playoff elimination, as they fell to Phoenix on Tuesday.

Recent resilient efforts from the New York Liberty helped delay playoff elimination, but the clock finally struck midnight on Tuesday.

Former Liberty guard Leilani Mitchell used the power of five three-pointers to reach a career-high 29 points for the Phoenix Mercury. Brittney Griner matched the tally to fuel Phoenix to a 95-82 win at the Westchester County Center. The Liberty (9-21) will miss out on the WNBA playoffs for the second consecutive season, doing so for the first time since 2013-14.

“I think we competed. It’s a summary of the whole season. We compete, just too many mistakes, not consistent enough on execution of the game plan both defensively and offensively,” head coach Katie Smith said. “We just have these little gaps, and (the opponent) jumps out into a little bit of a lead and that’s all she wrote.”

To Smith’s point, the Liberty were able to keep pace with the Mercury throughout the game. They even held a 63-59 lead midway through the third quarter. But Mitchell’s outside prowess helped put the game out of reach, as the Mercury (14-15) would embark on a 17-6 run to end the quarter.

Griner got things rolling early on for Phoenix. Her 20 first-half points helped them build an early lead, one Phoenix grew to as high as the final margin of 13. Griner left the game late in the first quarter after coming down hard on her knee in a rebounding scrum but would return in the second.

Smith almost didn’t focus on Griner’s dominance. She instead noted that it was Mitchell’s historic day that doomed the Liberty to defeat.

“Griner, we can have 29. We can’t have Leilani Mitchell have 29,” she said. “Griner’s playing her tail off. There were a couple of easy ones…but Griner’s tough, that’s a tough matchup. I thought we were decent most of the night. A couple of easy looks, we took ourselves out a little bit.”

Phoenix is 3.5 games up on Indiana for the final WNBA playoff spot. The Fever topped Las Vegas in an upset victory on Tuesday night.

The Liberty were led by Amanda Zahui B and Bria Hartley with 18 points each. Hartley set a new season-high with her tally. She has reached double figures in seven of her past eight games.

“It’s tough. This might be the 3rd time in my career that I didn’t make the playoffs,” Hartley remarked. “So I think as a professional athlete you want to play on the biggest stage and you want to play in the playoffs. It’s definitely tough.”

Meanwhile, Zahui B’s points were her best output since her career night in Los Angeles on June 16.

“I was more aggressive, but in the first half, we got looks that we did not make. Throughout the game we made our shots,” she said. “We played hard, we had trouble collectively stopping the people that got hot. We fought, and the effort was there.”

The Liberty have four more games on their docket, including the second game of a final home quarter on Friday night against Connecticut (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV/Fox Sports Go). Players made it abundantly clear that the team wasn’t going to let elimination stop them from giving their full effort and attention.

“We all love to play basketball. We go out there and we’ve all been in different programs where we compete. When you go out there, you’re representing yourself and you don’t want to look bad,” said Hartley. “We’re going out there, we’re representing ourselves as basketball players and we’re still representing the New York Liberty. So, no matter what, even if our season’ isn’t a playoff season, at least you know we’re going to go out there, battle, and give you a game.”

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