Griner, Taurasi lead Mercury past Liberty

NEW YORK — Diana Taurasi and the Phoenix Mercury made plays down the stretch when they needed them to close out a 3-0 road trip.

Brittney Griner scored 26 points, Taurasi had 21 and the Mercury held the Liberty without a point for the final 3:23 to beat New York 80-74 on Tuesday in a school-day game at Madison Square Garden.

“People always talk defense and I have a different philosophy on defense. I’d rather be a timely defensive team than an average defensive team,” Taurasi said. “You have to get timely stops. Try to make a play on both ends. Sancho (Lyttle) and Briann (January) are those people.”

This was one of only two games at MSG this season, with the Liberty playing the rest of their home schedule in suburban Westchester County.

“I think we have adapted to the County Center. That’s our new home, we love it, the fan base up there,” Liberty forward Shavonte Zellous said. “We love the Garden but we can’t play all our games here, so why be excited about one game.”

Phoenix (5-3) led by five at halftime and the second half was a back-and-forth affair, with neither team able to take a bigger lead until the closing minutes.

Marissa Coleman hit a 3-pointer with 3:23 left to give New York a 74-73 advantage. Those were the Liberty’s last points.

DeWanna Bonner hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 2:15 left to give Phoenix a two-point advantage. The teams traded misses before Griner connected on a turnaround jumper with 39.8 seconds left that made it 78-74 Phoenix. Taurasi added two free throws for the final margin.

Tina Charles scored 25 points and Bria Hartley had 18 to lead the Liberty (2-3).

“Everything is in our control,” Charles said. “Executing at the end, locking down, playing defense. We hurt ourselves. We have a great team and great individuals that can play. We proved we can hang with anyone in this league, we just need to execute down the stretch.”

New York was up 30-24 in the second quarter after Taurasi got a technical foul for arguing a call. That seemed to fire up her and the Mercury, as they closed the half on a 19-8 run. Taurasi had five points and three assists during that spurt as the Mercury led 43-38 at the half.

MILESTONE: Charles moved into 19th place on the WNBA all-time scoring list passing Sheryl Swoopes, who finished her career with 4,875 points. Charles has 4,891 now. Taurasi, who is the league’s all-time leading scorer, passed 8,000 career points on Tuesday.

“Somebody will come along and break it eventually,” Taurasi said. “It is a nice round number.”

UP NEXT: Mercury host Chicago on Friday night.