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Liberty eliminated from playoffs as Griner and Taurasi return and dominate for Mercury

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Phoenix Mercury v New York Liberty Photo by Catalina Fragoso/NBAE via Getty Images

There will be no playoffs again this season for Joe Tsai’s New York Liberty. The Libs were eliminated from the post-season following a loss to the Phoenix Mercury, 95-82, in White Plains.

it’s the second straight year that the New Yorkers will be without a playoff invite. They are 9-21 with four to play. The loss to the Merc was their third straight and the 14th in their last 16.

Bria Hartley, the team’s French guard, expressed her frustration to Brian Heyman of Newsday.

“As a professional athlete, you want to go out there and play on the biggest stage and you want to play in the playoffs,” Hartley said after scoring 18 points. “So it’s definitely tough.”

It was an all-too-familiar story for the Liberty. They kept it close early, went ahead early in the third, then collapsed at the end.

Down three at the half, New York led 63-59 in the third quarter before Camille Little scored seven straight points for the Mercury. The teams traded the lead with the Liberty taking their final one of the game on Kia Nurse’s 3-pointer with 2:12 left in the third. Phoenix scored the final eight points of the quarter, including the last four by Leilani Mitchell.

The Mercury held the Liberty to 13 points in the fourth quarter.

Mercury stars Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi both played for Phoenix, whose season has been injury-filled. Griner had 29 points and 14 rebounds, Mitchell added a career-high 29 points and Taurasi played 26 minutes, her second outing since returning from a persistent hamstring injury. Taurasi had only two points, missing all seven of her shots. She did have 10 assists and four rebounds for the Merc who are now 14-15

Griner had a scare early in the game. She went down after a knee-to-knee collision. The WNBA’s tallest player clutched her right knee and ultimately limped off with 43.5 seconds left. But Griner returned 1:37 into the second quarter and moved well.

Now that the Liberty are eliminated, expect more minutes for Han Xu, the 6’9” Chinese star the Liberty took in the Draft. Han has averaged only 7.1 minutes in 14 games. Coach Katie Smith said Han has been spending time in the Liberty weight room.

“She can score from all levels and understands how to score,” Smith said. “She’s not a bad defender. It’s just a little bit of that being able to hold your ground . . . ”

Joe Tsai was on hand for the contest, but reportedly declined requests for interviews. Despite the star power of Griner and Taurasi, the game drew only 1,693 customers. Writing for Forbes, Howard Megdal of High Post Hoops which covers the WNBA wrote about how Tsai has yet to reveal his plans for bringing the Liberty to Barclays Center in 2020.