PHOENIX, ARIZ. – JULY 1, 2016 – The New York Liberty rode a hot start to a 99-88 wire-to-wire win over the Phoenix Mercury on Friday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena, improving to 12-5 overall and 8-1 on the road.
Tina Charles returned from a one-game absence to dominate with 31 points and 10 rebounds, recording her second 30-point game of the season and the 9th of her career.
Sugar Rodgers also surpassed 20 points, doing so for the seventh time this season and the third game in a row, finishing with 22 points and a pair of 3-pointers, increasing her WNBA leading tally to 50. Shavonte Zellous led the Liberty second unit with a season-high 16 points.
New York was red hot to start the game, sprinting out to a 17-6 lead, and the Liberty never looked back. It was a drastically different start for New York than what transpired just five days ago, with Phoenix taking an 18-4 lead at Madison Square Garden fewer than five minutes into the action in a game they eventually won 104-97 in overtime.
Rodgers steered the early charge, hitting her first three shots from the field and adding a couple of free throws to help the Liberty build that early 11-point lead. The sharp shooting continued, and after Tanisha Wright drove to the rim to make it 23-10, New York was shooting 10-of-11 from the field.
The Mercury struggled to hit shots, starting the game 2-of-10 to fall behind 29-14 after the first quarter. It was the highest scoring opening period of the season for the Liberty, while Phoenix matched its lowest output through 10 minutes.
New York led by as many as 20 in the first half, and was in front 53-39 at the half. Rodgers and Charles both had 12 points to lead all scorers, while Wright had seven points and five assists, and Zellous provided a crucial spark off the bench with eight points on 4-for-6 shooting.
As was the case in the first meeting, the Liberty’s bench dramatically outscored the Mercury second unit. Led by Zellous, New York’s reserves tallied 18 first-half points, compared to just six for the Phoenix bench.
Early in the third quarter a wild sequence led to the ejection of both Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi in succession. Taurasi already had been assessed a technical for arguing an offensive foul call, but then Griner was given two technicals for arguing with officials after she was whistled for a foul on a Charles jumper.
Taurasi’s second technical was awarded at the same time, and in the end the Liberty was given six free throw attempts, four for technicals and two for the Charles’ attempt, making all six to take a 64-41 lead.
The Mercury responded with a 10-1 run led by Dewanna Bonner, making it 65-51 before the Liberty asked for a timeout. Two possessions later Charles snapped the drought with a jumper as she drew contact, completing the 3-point play to push the lead back to 17.
New York re-built its 20 point margin, but a spirited Phoenix comeback saw the Mercury cut the Liberty lead down to seven approaching three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the first time the New York advantage was a single-digits since the 5:38 mark of the first quarter.
Rodgers eventually squashed the comeback attempt as Wright found her for a clutch trey on the right side, just her second triple of the night, but it came at a big moment, giving her a second-straight 20-point game and putting New York back on top 88-78.
The Liberty returns to action on Sunday afternoon, when it faces the Los Angeles Sparks for the final time this season. Tipoff at the Staples Center is scheduled for 2 p.m. (PST).
• New York hit 10 of its first 11 field goal attempts and never trailed in the game. The Liberty led by as many as 23 points in the second half.
• Tina Charles recorded her ninth-career 30-point game and her second of the season.
• Charles shot 11-of-11 from the field with 10 rebounds, her 11th double-double of the year.
• Sugar Rodgers has scored 20-plus points for the third-straight game, finishing with 22 points and a pair of 3-pointers on Friday night.
• The Liberty improved to 8-1 on the road this season. Its only road loss was at Los Angeles, where New York plays on Sunday afternoon
• Shavonte Zellous scored a season-high 16 points
• The Liberty scored a season-high 99 points after netting a season-best 29 points in the 1st quarter.