Diana Taurasi talks about her record-breaking 3-pointer and the Phoenix Mercury’s outlook for the rest of the season.

Kiah Stokes scored a career-high 23 points and added 14 rebounds to help the New York Liberty beat the Phoenix Mercury 88-72 on Sunday.

It’s the second straight game that Stokes has had had a career high in points and finished with a double-double. Shavonte Zellous added 21 points, and Tina Charles had 16 for New York (4-3). The Liberty are 2-1 on their five-game homestand.

Brittney Griner scored 26 points, and Diana Taurasi added 17 for Phoenix (4-3).

The Liberty built a 14-point lead in the first half before the Mercury chipped it away. New York led 56-54 midway through the third quarter before outscoring Phoenix 16-9 the rest of the period. Zellous had seven points during that run to close the period, including getting it started with a three-point play. Phoenix could only get within nine in the fourth quarter.

The teams played on May 23 in Phoenix and the Liberty came away with a two-point win. Taurasi was suspended for the game for a foul she committed in the game before.

Stokes helped the Liberty jump out to a 33-20 lead before Griner got going offensively to bring the Mercury within 47-41 at the half. Stokes finished the opening 20 minutes with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Griner had 19 first-half points.


Mercury: Taurasi had on her shoes “DT” and “3”, fitting now that she’s the WNBA career leader in 3-pointers made, passing Liberty assistant coach Katie Smith in her last game. Sunday was Smith’s 43rd birthday. … Griner failed to block a shot for the first time since June 27, 2016 She is still tied for eighth on the career blocks list with Taj McWilliams Franklin (443).

Liberty: New York signed Chelsea Hopkins on Saturday to bolster the guard spot while Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn are fulfilling their national team duties in the 2017 EuroBasket tournament. … The last time the Liberty won consecutive games was July 17-20, 2016, against Connecticut and Washington.

-Associated Press


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Phoenix Mercury at New York Liberty

When: Noon, Sunday.

Where: Madison Square Garden, New York.

Mercury: When the Mercury (4-2) lost 69-67 to New York on May 23, they were without Diana Taurasi, suspended for one game for hitting a player. Even so, they rallied from 15 down in the third quarter to lead by five with 2:24 left before the Liberty scored the final seven points. Taurasi scored a season high 37 points Thursday in a 99-91 win at Chicago, becoming the WNBA career 3-point leader. She is 90 points away from becoming the league career scoring leader. Phoenix won 101-94 at New York in a 2016 second-round playoff game.

Liberty: The Liberty (3-3) are without G Epiphanny Prince (Russia) and C Kia Vaughn (Czech Republic), away for the European Championships, which start June 16. Bria Hartley started in place of Prince in a 93-89 win over Dallas on Friday when F Tina Charles scored a career high 36 points and F Shavonte Zellous added 27. In the first game against Phoenix, Prince scored 24 including the game-winning basket and Charles scored 22 with 11 rebounds.

Taurasi sets WNBA career 3-point record 

ROSEMONT, Ill. – Diana Taurasi tied a career high with eight 3-pointers and broke a tie for the WNBA’s career record, leading the Phoenix Mercury to a 99-91 victory over the Chicago Sky on Thursday night.

Taurasi entered the game tied with Katie Smith with 906 3-pointers, and broke the mark early in the first quarter. Her accomplishment resonated nationally, as former NBA star Kobe Bryant went to Twitter to congratulate Taurasi.

Taurasi was 9 of 15 from the field, with only one 2-point shot, and scored 37 points to move into second place on the league’s career scoring list. It was her highest points total since 2010.

Brittney Griner added 28 points and 13 rebounds for Phoenix (4-2), and Leilani Mitchell scored 14 points as the trio combined to score 79 points. They had 42 of the Mercury’s 50 points in the first half.

MORE: Phoenix Mercury 2017 schedule

Chicago had an 87-85 lead midway through the fourth quarter, but Taurasi scored eight points on the next three Phoenix possessions to make it 93-87. The Sky went scoreless for over four minutes down the stretch.

Stefanie Dolson made her first six 3-pointers and scored a career-high 21 points for Chicago (1-6). Allie Quigley added 18 points, and Cappie Pondexter had 10 points and eight assists.

It was a high scoring first quarter as Pondexter’s layup at the buzzer gave Chicago a 30-28 lead. The Sky hit their first seven shots, and Phoenix’s opening 21 points all came from Taurasi and Griner.

– Associated Press

Mercury regaining elite defensive form

The Sandy Brondello coaching era started the way she imagined, with the Phoenix Mercury massively improving on defense and winning the 2014 WNBA title.

The defense eroded some in 2015, dipping from second in points allowed to fourth, then last season took a bigger fall to eighth, giving up 83.3 points per game.

But now the D is back with a retooled roster that leads the league in points allowed (67.2), opponent field-goal (37.0) and 3-point (19.2) percentage and is tied for third in forced turnovers (16.2). 

Through five games, Mercury opponents have scored 20-plus points in only three of 20 quarters, opposed to 16 quarters over the same period in 2016. 

“Number 1, we have athletic players; that helps,” Brondello said. “We have intelligent players; that helps to put everything in. In the end, it’s just people that want to buy in and do what’s best for the team. They’re committing to what we’re asking them to do.”

In 6-9 Brittney Griner, the Mercury have a two-time WNBA Defensive Player of the Year who at 26 is coming into her prime. What’s dramatically changed is their perimeter defense, with additions of Danielle Robinson, Stephanie Talbot and others.

MORE: Taurasi breaks down Cavaliers-Warriors duel

Starting point guard Robinson made the WNBA All-Defensive Team from 2012-14 while with San Antonio. The 6-2 Talbot is a WNBA rookie but at 22 already has played professionally since for six years in her native Australia and Poland and was a 2016 Olympian.

“We can be way more aggressive than we were last year purely because we have more athletic players,” Brondello said. “It allows us to be real creative with how we want to defend each individual and guarding people differently. That’s something we weren’t able to do a hell of a lot last year because the personnel driven that way.”

In addition to her defense, Talbot is second among WNBA rookies with 4.6 rebounds per game. She and Camille Little are double teaming effectively on the perimeter while Robinson and Leilani Mitchell are stopping guards from getting to the basket like they did seemingly at will much of last season.

“We have a lot of depth on our perimeter,” Talbot said. “We can get after it, we can hustle and we can reset and get new players in. Camille and Emma (Cannon) are great at trapping the guards coming off on balls and making them hesitate. That’s helpful knowing they’re going to be there or knowing that BG (Griner) is there with her hand up. We don’t have to foul, we can just let BG come across and block it. She’s always going to be there.”

Griner has not fouled out and largely remained out of foul trouble this early season, averaging 31 minutes. That gives Brondello the ability to play backup Cayla George when she chooses instead of out of necessity, helping to turn the bench into a force like in last week’s 63-point contribution (out of 107 total) against Dallas. 

“BG became real disciplined from the start of this year,” said Brondello, referring back to the 2017 part of Griner’s Russian season. “Her maturity on that side of the ball, knowing she can impact shots without fouling and having a little bit more poise if they’re trying to make her go crazy certainly helps. 

“We’re able to defend better 1-on-1 on the perimeter, so she doesn’t have to over-help. That’s when we gave up offensive rebounds because no one else would block out. Now we have so much more team defense.”

Phoenix Mercury at Chicago Sky

When: 5 p.m. Thursday.

Where: Allstate Arena, Rosemont, Ill.

Mercury: Diana Taurasi needs one more 3-pointer to become the WNBA career leader, breaking a tie with Katie Smith at 906. She is 36 points away from surpassing Tamika Catchings as the league’s No. 2 career scorer. Mercury rookie Sophie Brunner is from nearby Freeport, Ill., with family and friends turning out in force to support her during her Arizona State career. Brunner has played briefly in two games. Phoenix remains on the road for games against New York on Sunday and Indiana on June 7.

Sky: Chicago (1-5) is on a three-game losing streak including a 97-79 loss to Connecticut on Sunday. The Sky’s only win was 75-71 over Atlanta on May 21. Chicago is adjusting to life without Elena Delle Donne, traded to Washington for Stefanie Dolson, Kahleah Copper and the No. 2 overall draft pick. The Sky used the pick on South Carolina 6-4 center Alaina Coates, who is out with an ankle injury suffered during the SEC Tournament before the Gamecocks went on their NCAA title run. F Tamera Young is averaging 15.2 points and G Cappie Pondexter 14.7 points/8.3 assists.

Taurasi set to break 3-point mark

Taurasi returned from a one-game suspension last Saturday to score a season-high 18 points. In the third quarter, she tied Katie Smith for the WNBA career 3-point lead.

“I always talk about Katie being one of my biggest heroes growing up,” Taurasi said. “Her work ethic, got to share the court with her at the Olympics. To be tied with her right now is kind of cool. I feel like if we could just end it there and we’ll both be on top, we’d both be pretty happy with that.”

Taurasi is 127 points away from becoming the WNBA career-scoring leader.

WNBA career 3-point leaders

1. Diana Taurasi 906

1. Katie Smith 906

3. Becky Hammon 829

4. Tina Thompson 748

5. Sue Bird 740