WNBA: Liberty hold on to end skid against Mercury

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Sabrina Ionescu collected 22 points and nine assists as the host New York Liberty blew a 15-point lead before making enough plays down the stretch for an 81-78 victory over the Phoenix Mercury on Wednesday night.

Jonquel Jones added 10 of her 20 in the fourth quarter to help New York outscore Phoenix 10-4 in the final 2:54. Betnijah Laney-Hamilton contributed 15 and Breanna Stewart chipped in 13 and eight boards as New York dodged a third straight loss, shot 41.2 percent and survived misfiring on 23 of 32 3-point tries.

Natasha Cloud scored a game-high 21 points for Phoenix, which lost its third straight but turned in a much better showing than Tuesday’s 70-47 road loss to the Connecticut Sun. Kahleah Copper added 20 and nine rebounds and Diana Taurasi contributed 14 as the Mercury shot 42.6 percent and hit 10 3s after going 1-of-27 from behind the arc Tuesday.

Ionescu scored 10 points as the Liberty sank six 3-pointers and shot 66.7 percent for a 33-20 lead through the opening quarter. New York held a 36-21 lead after Kayla Thornton sank a 3-pointer with 8:10 left in the second but Phoenix outscored the Liberty 23-11 the rest of the half and trailed 47-44 by halftime.

In the third, Phoenix finally regained the lead for the first time since early in the first quarter when Copper hit a layup with 63 seconds left. After Copper missed a 10-footer, Courtney Vandersloot scooped in a coast-to-coast layup for a 60-59 lead with 23.5 seconds left and the Mercury could not get a shot off on their final possession of the third.

Taurasi hit 3s on consecutive possessions to give Phoenix a 65-60 lead with 7:52 left. New York scored the next nine points and Phoenix called a timeout after Ionescu connected with Jones for a layup with 5:18 left.

The Mercury took a 72-69 lead with 3:32 left when Copper intercepted Stewart’s pass and converted a layup.

Vandersloot split two free throws for a 74-74 tie with 1:54 left after intercepting Copper’s pass and Jones snapped the tie with two free throws with 69 seconds remaining. After Copper missed a layup with 54.5 seconds left, Laney-Hamilton leaned in for a foul line jumper with 31 seconds left for a four-point lead.

Ionescu then finished it by hitting two free throws with 24.6 seconds remaining.

–Field Level Media

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