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The Mercury Escaped The First Round Against New York Thanks To A Liberty Foul With 0.4 Seconds To Play

The Phoenix Mercury played host to the New York Liberty on Friday night for the first round of the WNBA playoffs, with the right to play the Seattle Storm (or, for the Liberty, the Minnesota Lynx) in Round 2 on the line.

The favored Mercury took an early lead, but the young Liberty went on an extended run from late in the first quarter into the second to swipe a 41-37 advantage at halftime that had many — including Chicago Sky coach James Wade — stunned.

The Mercury would retake the lead by two in the third quarter, as Skylar Diggins-Smith and Sophie Cunningham heated up.

In the fourth quarter, the two teams traded leads and big threes late, starting with another three from Cunningham, who finished the game with 21 points off the bench.

After the Mercury increased their lead to three, the Liberty turned to Betnijah Laney, who led the way with 25 points on the night, for the answer and she delivered, stepping up to hit a sensational shot to tie the game at 82 with under three seconds to play.

After a timeout to advance the ball, Phoenix drew up a beautiful play to get the Liberty in rotation on defense, slipping Brianna Turner to the basket after a screen got two Liberty defenders to go to one player, leaving no recourse for Sami Whitcomb but to swipe down on Turner, catching her arm (which the reverse angle showed clearly) and sending her to the line with 0.4 to play.

Turner would split the two free throws, missing the first and making the second to give Phoenix an 83-82 advantage, with New York unable to get a decent look at the rim, as Sabrina Ionescu, who had 14 points and 11 assists in the loss, could only muster a near halfcourt heave on the inbounds play as Britney Griner forced her to simply launch a prayer high into the air that fell short of the basket.

It was an impressive performance from a Liberty team that squeaked into the playoffs, and, while no one wants to talk about moral victories right after the playoffs, it should eventually only breed confidence that they can build on this performance. For Phoenix, it was a shakier start to their postseason than they hoped against an 8-seed, but they showed some impressive fortitude in fighting off the Liberty at every turn. Diggins-Smith finished with 22 points, 5 assists, and four rebounds as she led the way, while Griner had 16 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists in a terrific outing from the center spot.

Now, it’s on to the reigning champs in Seattle for another win-or-go home game before a hopeful trip to the conference finals for a 5-game series.

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