NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - With a talented team returning and Brittney Griner joining the mix, the Phoenix Mercury had lofty expectations coming into the season.
Not everything has gone according to plan. But now with the playoffs in sight, Phoenix is starting to look more like a championship contender.
Candice Dupree and DeWanna Bonner each scored 18 points to help the Mercury beat the New York Liberty 80-76 on Tuesday night.
Diana Taurasi added 17 points, nine assists and six rebounds for Phoenix (18-13).
``We starting to get healthy and play better, but it's not like there's a switch we can just turn on and off,'' Taurasi said.
Phoenix has won four straight games and has been buoyed by the return of Penny Taylor, who sat out 13 games while recovering from a right knee injury. With the Mercury struggling in the third quarter, Taylor scored 10 straight points to rally them.
``I'm just trying to work some of the rust off,'' Taylor said. ``I'm getting better day by day and will keep working at it.''
A healthy Taylor will help the Mercury moving forward to the playoffs. The Mercury clinched the third seed in the West with the win and Seattle's loss to Minnesota. Phoenix will play Los Angeles in the first round.
The Mercury will visit Chicago before closing the regular season against San Antonio and Los Angeles.
Phoenix will be without Taurasi for Wednesday night's nationally televised game as she picked up her ninth technical foul in the third quarter for flailing.
Under WNBA rules, a player or coach is automatically suspended without pay for one game upon receiving a seventh technical foul during the regular season. For every two additional technical fouls received during that regular season, the player or coach will be automatically suspended for an additional game. There is a chance the league could rescind the technical when they review the play.
``At least I'll get the day off,'' Taurasi said with her trademark smile.
That technical seemed to energize Phoenix, which rallied behind Taylor and led 62-61 after three quarters.
With the game tied at 69 midway through the fourth quarter, Phoenix went on a 9-3 run to take control. Taurasi started it with a jumper and capped it with a rebound and assist to Bonner for a 3-pointer that made it 78-72 with 2:16 left.
New York wouldn't go away as Kelsey Bone hit consecutive baskets to make it 78-76 with 30 seconds left.
Taurasi tried to seal the win with 9.3 seconds left, but her deep 3-pointer was off the rim giving New York one last chance.
Katie Smith's inbounds pass was stolen by Briana Gilbreath and Taurasi hit two free throws to clinch it.
While Phoenix is already in the postseason, New York (11-21) was eliminated from the playoff chase. This is only the second time in the past seven years that New York didn't make the postseason.
``I thought our effort was what we were supposed to give,'' Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said. ``We talked all season about our lack of effort for four quarters and tonight we came out with the effort to win this basketball game. They made some shots in the end and we didn't.''
Smith scored a season-high 17 points to lead the Liberty.
The Liberty honored Smith before the game. Smith announced earlier this year that she would retire at the end of the season. The 15-year veteran, who is the league's No. 2 all-time leading scorer, was given a framed USA basketball jersey, a collage of photos of her playing career among her gifts.
``We fought so hard and it was great to see the effort tonight,'' Smith said.
New York was without star Cappie Pondexter, who was sidelined with a knee contusion. Laimbeer said that the team will see how she's feeling as to whether she'll sit out the final two games of the season or not.
Tuesday night marked the last game at Newark for the Liberty. The team will head back to Madison Square Garden next season with the renovations there finished.
Smith kept the Liberty in the game early on scoring nine points in the first quarter. New York trailed by 34-24 midway through the second before rallying behind Alex Montgomery. Her consecutive 3s made it a one-point game.
Phoenix led 43-41 at the half behind 13 points from Bonner and 12 from Taurasi.
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