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Liberty snap losing streak with nail-biter against Phoenix Mercury, 85-83

New York Liberty v Phoenix Mercury Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

After dropping three straight contests in their first losing streak of the season, the New York Liberty got back in the win column Sunday with an 85-83 victory in Phoenix against the Mercury. New York got it done without their starting point guard Sabrina Ionecu, who missed her first game of the season with a sore ankle.

New York, who held a lead as big as 17 points in the second quarter, saw it dwindle to single digits by the fourth quarter with Phoenix even tying up the game at 72 with a little over six minutes remaining. Nine points from Jazmine Jones, a Betnijah Laney scoop shot around the X STAT wingspan of Britney Griner and a game-winning steal in transition from Rebecca Allen delivered the win for New York, who’s now 6-4, second best in the East.

One common denominator of New York’s recent losses was struggling out of the gate. Sunday, though, the Liberty pulled away to a 12-point lead after the first quarter. Postgame, Jones remarked that she thought it was the Liberty’s best start of the season, noting how New York forced Phoenix to call the first timeout.

The Libs did it without Ionescu who was described as suffering from tendinitis in the same ankle she severely sprained in the third game of last season’s “wubble.” Over the last few games, Ionescu has not seemed herself and so was given a rest.

In Ionescu’s absence, Betnijah Laney continued her scoring ways with 23 but also stepped up as a facilitator, handing out 10 assists. Postgame, she noted her increased playmaking responsibility with Ionescu sidelined: ‘I was ready, we kinda knew what was going on coming into this week. It meant I had to step up a little more, and we’re hoping to get Sabrina back healthy in the upcoming games.”

Laney, the Rutgers product, once again put up a highlight reel’s worth of plays...

Laney, signed by the Liberty in the off-season, is now averaging 21 points a game, fourth in the WNBA. Sami Whitcomb had 14 points, Kylee Shook added 10 and Rebecca Allen had seven after being inserted into the starting lineup. Overall, the bench contributed 28 of New York’s 85 points.

But head coach Walt Hopkins described Jones, a second year player like Ionescu, as the “player of the game.” Jones relished the larger serving of playing time Hopkins gave her in Ionescu’s absence and delivered down the stretch, finishing with 16 points, 14 in the fourth, and seven rebounds.

After the game, Jones described her fourth quarter hot streak as an “out of body experience.”

Reshanda Gray, a 6’2” big who had been cut earlier in the season, was brought back for a second time on a hardship contract Sunday after Kiah Stokes left to play in Eurobasket. Gray proved her worth. She had eight points and five rebounds, as well as some solid defensive play down low against Britney Griner.

Postgame, Allen commented on her not-so-new teammate’s performance: “She’s just a really hard worker. She’s got a tough assignment tonight with BG, and she’s just playing hard and just doing her job.”

As for the Mercury, Skylar Diggins-Smith had 25 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists while Griner added 29 points on 62.5 percent shooting. Other than that, though, the Liberty limited the rest of the Mercury roster. Other than the two stars, no Mercury players got into double figures. Postgame, Laney and Jones both said that the game plan was to withstand scoring from the stars while limiting the supporting players.

Here are the game highlights...

Twitter battle

On Tuesday, Jazmine Jones and Skylar Diggins-Smith got into on Twitter. Jones took issue with Bleacher Report using a video clip of Diggins-Smith in his game report when the Liberty won the game. Jones thought Betnijah Laney should have been featured.

The back-and-forth on Twitter got ugly fast.

What’s Next?

The Liberty will begin a two-game series in Las Vegas against the Aces on Tuesday night. The game is set for 10 p.m. and will air on ESPN3. No word on whether Ionescu will be back.