NEW YORK — Diana Taurasi tends to play her best when the most is on the line.
The star guard scored 30 points and Brittney Griner added 22 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks to help the eighth-seeded Phoenix Mercury beat the No. 3 New York Liberty 101-94 on Saturday night. Taurasi is 13-3 in WNBA elimination games in her storied career, including a 6-0 mark on the road.
“I’m not afraid of it. It’s a challenge. It’s fun,” she said. “When you go on the road, especially here at the Garden. These fans are so thirsty they want a championship so bad. We came in the underdog. Today was a whole lot of fun.”
The Mercury will head to Minnesota for the semifinals, which is a five-game series as opposed to the single elimination games that Phoenix won in the opening two rounds of the postseason.
“It’s going to be hard. They are the best in the league right now,” Taurasi said. “They are the defending champs. We know what they do. They know what we do. It’s going to be a battle of wills more than anything. Right now we’re finding our groove. Finding who we are.”
Just as they did during their first-round playoff game, Phoenix players Mistie Bass and Kelsey Bone kneeled during the playing of the national anthem . Liberty guard Brittany Boyd sat on the bench with her head bowed. She also said she did that in the final few games of the regular season.
“I don’t want to stand up. I choose not to stand up and I sit down and pray,” said Boyd, who wore a Colin Kaepernick jersey into the arena and had it hanging in her locker. “Colin (Kaepernick) and his message about social injustice going on in this country today is something I believe needs change. This wasn’t the first game I sat down for the national anthem. I don’t agree with some of the stuff that’s going on. This is me using my platform.”
With Phoenix clinging to a two-point lead early in the fourth quarter Taurasi scored five straight points in a 10-2 run that gave them an 84-76 advantage. New York refused to quit, hitting back-to-back 3s to get within 84-82. But that’s as close as the Liberty could get as they came up empty on the next few possessions. New York trailed 90-86 with 1:29 left before Taurasi hit a 3-pointer from the wing, pumping her fists at midcourt after it swished through the net that virtually sealed the victory.
Phoenix was in control in the first half as the Mercury led by 15 points in the second quarter thanks to the play of Penny Taylor, who finished with 20 points. Trailing 52-41 at the break, the Liberty opened the second half on a 13-2 run capped by Tina Charles’ 3-pointer to tie it at 54. They trailed 68-67 after three quarters and the game was tied at 74 after Epiphanny Prince’s 3-pointer with 7:23 left in the final period.
Tanisha Wright scored 21 points and Tina Charles added 19 to lead New York. The loss also marked the end of Swin Cash’s career. The 15-year WNBA player announced during the season that she would retire after the Liberty’s season ended.
“It’s tough to completely reflect right now, but I’m really proud of this team,” Cash said. “Took some bumps along the way, injuries. We set a really solid foundation on how hard you have to work and what it takes to get to that next level.”
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