NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - New York jumped out to a big lead and coasted to a needed win against the injury-plagued Phoenix Mercury. The Liberty were also able to rest their starters and give the reserves some valuable playing time.
Plenette Pierson scored 17 points on 8-for-13 shooting to lead New York's balanced offense and the Liberty beat the Mercury 87-59 Wednesday night.
Kara Braxton and Alex Montgomery added 12 points each, Nicole Powell had 11 and Cappie Pondexter 10 to help New York (11-16) move a half-game ahead of Chicago for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Liberty host the Sky on Friday night.
``We talked about Phoenix is out of the race, so two things could happen,' New York coach John Whisenant said. ``We could let them go out and play loose ... or we could attack them defensively early and try to get them down, and that's what we did. I thought our players maintained their intensity pretty much throughout.'
The Liberty got off to a fast start and led 21-5 less than 6 minutes into the game. After Phoenix cut the deficit to 10 by the end of the first quarter, New York took control with a 10-0 run that doubled the lead to 33-13 less than 3 minutes into the second. The lead was 22 at halftime and swelled to 32 in the third.
New York finished shooting 47 percent (36 for 76) from the field, including 9 for 22 (41 percent) from 3-point range. The Liberty outrebounded the Mercury 40-34 and finished with a season-high 27 assists - led by Pondexter's eight.
The Liberty have won two of three on their six-game homestand. After facing Chicago, they host Los Angeles on Sunday and Washington next Wednesday. The Liberty then have three road games before finishing at home against Tulsa on Sept. 22.
``We're trying to make a playoff push and our focus right now is to win the home games that are coming up, Pondexter said. ``We did a great job tonight. We came out in the game, everyone had an opportunity to play and everyone scored. It was a great team effort.'
DeWanna Bonner scored 20 points for the Mercury (6-20), who fell into a tie with the Shock for last place in the West. Diana Taurasi and Alexis Hornbuckle added 10 points each.
``We're going to have to do a better job on every side of the basketball,' Taurasi said. ``If you have bad possessions, you try to get back on defense. If defensively you don't get rebounds, it's hard to get a good offense going. It's a combination of things so hopefully we do a better job of that.'
Phoenix was again without Candice Dupree, who has appeared in just one game since June 17 and is recovering from arthroscopic surgery on her left knee in late July. The Mercury then lost rookie point guard Sammy Prahalis to an injured right shoulder in the opening minute of the second quarter. Phoenix has also played all season without Penny Taylor, who is recovering from an ACL injury in her left knee, and was without Taurasi for most of the first half of the season.
``When Sammy went down, we had one more point guard to go and that was it,' Mercury coach Corey Gaines said. ``It's a lot of injuries. It's a tough one.'
The Liberty scored the first 11 points of the game. The Mercury, who missed their first seven shots, didn't get on the scoreboard until Taurasi made two free throws with 5:41 to go in the opening quarter. Taurasi got their first field goal on a three-point play 25 seconds later to cut the deficit to 14-5.
New York scored the next seven points to take a 16-point lead on Montgomery's jumper with 4:04 to go in the period. The Liberty were shooting 9 for 13 at that point, and the Mercury were 1 for 9.
Hornbuckle had a bank shot and 3-pointer as Phoenix scored the final six points of the period to pull to 23-13.
Powell and Pondexter hit back-to-back 3s as the Liberty scored the first 10 points of the second quarter, extending their lead to 20 with 7:16 to go in the half. A 7-0 run, capped by Powell's layup, increased the advantage to 45-20 a little more than 4 minutes later.
``We just couldn't put the ball in the basket,' Gaines said. ``We came in last night from the West Coast to the East Coast and we just were kind of sluggish, never kind of woke up.'
Bonner made two free throws with 9 seconds to go in the first half to pull Phoenix to 51-29 at the break.
Pierson had consecutive layups and Kara Braxton added one of her own to stretch New York's lead to 28 less than 2 1/2 minutes into the third. Montgomery, who had a career-high scoring total, hit a 3 and had a layup to make it 67-35 with less than 3 minutes left in the period for the Liberty's largest lead of the game.
Phoenix got no closer than 26 the rest of the way.
``We played great,' Pierson said. ``We were aggressive; we came out and jumped on them early and the bench followed suit ... we played like a team.'
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