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Liberty stumble on 20th Anniversary with OT loss

The Liberty honored its inaugural team from 1997 on Sunday in Madison Square Garden, but the celebration ended at the end of the fourth quarter. Phoenix snapped New York’s six-game winning streak with a valiant comeback in overtime.

New York, N.Y. -€” It wasn't just another game in "The World's Greatest Arena"; Sunday's matinee honored the 20th Anniversary of the New York Liberty's 1997 inaugural season.

The team was honored in a pre-game ceremony that had former players and Ring of Honor inductees Rebecca Lobo, Sue Wicks, Kym Hampton and Vickie Johnson in attendance.

"It felt good seeing all the old players who played who paved the way for us to be here today," said Sugar Rodgers.

Even Geno Auriemma, head coach of the reigning champion UConn Huskies, was spotted in "Celebrity Row."

Coming into the game on a season-high six-game winning streak, the Liberty came back from a first quarter deficit, but fell in overtime to the Phoenix Mercury 104-97.

Out of the gates, it was all Phoenix. Diana Taurasi, who ranks second in the WNBA in points per game, opened up the contest with a three.

It sparked a run for the Mercury digging New York into a 17-4 hole just three minutes into the game.

"Give credit to Phoenix. They came out aggressive in the first half and kind of had us on our heels and dug us in the hole," said Shavonte Zellous.

A lot of missed shots for the Liberty early on, but a deep ball by Rodgers helped get the offense rolling.

It was Tina Charles versus the 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner, who ranks in the top 15 of the WNBA's all-time blocks list. Charles' fade away jumper brought the Liberty closer, down by seven.

Her fake on Griner, one play later, made it 24-17 Mercury, close enough to make Liberty head coach Bill Laimbeer confident in taking out his starters.

The quarter ended with familiar perimeter shooter Rebecca Allen, who's playing in just her third game since being re-signed by the Liberty. Her three-point shot had her team inching closer to the lead, down by just six.

After another slow start by New York, they regained the momentum early in the second with an 8-0 run. A reverse layup by Brittany Boyd and a Zellous pull-up jump shot tied it at 28.

Griner went on to make both her free throws, after a foul on Kiah Stokes, to take back the lead.

The power of Dupree and Taurasi did not allow the Liberty to get closer.

Taurasi nailed a 23-footer and Dupree drove in a layup, forcing New York to call a timeout; a timeout well called.

It ended up launching the Liberty back into the game with Charles tying it up at 41 apiece.

The teams went to the locker room at the half with Phoenix at a one-point advantage (47-46).

With not one starter under six-foot for the Mercury, it was safe to say size was an obstacle for the Liberty to overcome.

A New York team that is used to dominating in the paint was shutdown at their own game, outscoring their opponent just 10-8 in the opening quarter.

Talk about a play that brought the crowd at Madison Square Garden back into it, Boyd went coast-to-coast, after a forced turnover, to bring the game within five.

The Next play, it was Zellous who forced the Liberty's second turnover in a row. Zellous got it off to Stokes, who sent the team into its final quarter with its biggest lead of the game at 67-57.

"Just being aggressive. That's what [Laimbeer] wanted me to do," said Zellous. "Come off the bench and be aggressive and contribute in anyway I can. Whatever I can do just to bring that spark."

Remember when New York was being outplayed in the paint earlier in the game? Well, that didn't last long; they ended up doubling the Mercury on the inside 40-20 by the end of the third.

Griner's mediocre night was disguised by the impressive offensive effort of her teammates.

Taurasi came out firing a three to start the fourth for her 14th point of the game. She ended up adding 10 more, racking up 24 total points in the contest.

Griner made four free throws in a row to climb back into the game, but Rodgers retaliated. She shot off a three from the corner to keep her team ahead.

Rodgers, just one point away from tying her career high, tallied 23 points on the game, second to Charles' 26.

With a little over one minute to go, a familiar lethargic defense let Taurasi and Griner climb back in it, cutting the Liberty's lead back to just one point.

Griner put on a strong performance from the fourth quarter on. After posting just six points prior to the fourth, she finished the game with 16.

With 7.8 seconds on the clock, Wright was called for a three-shot foul on Taurasi. Taurasi, making all three free throws, tied it up at 89 and sent the game into overtime.

The Liberty, 2-2 in overtime with two wins on the road and two losses at home, looked to give Madison Square Garden its first overtime win of the season.

Griner opened up extended play with a layup to get her team ahead first.

"I didn't want to lose," said Griner. "We had to get that win. We just did something simple, and we just kept getting different actions off of it, and it worked. We just need to do that the whole game so we don't have to go into overtime."

Laimbeer's valiant defense was crumbling on his own home court, mostly due to unnecessary fouls and turnovers.

"It happens," said Laimbeer. "The whole fourth quarter was frustrating. They couldn't score except for the free throw line. I know that wasn't the case, but it seemed that way."

Phoenix started sinking every free throw New York gave them and before they knew it, New York was down 101-95 with just 46 seconds to go.

A jump shot by Dupree, for her 26th point of the game and season high, forced Laimbeer to call a timeout.

Out of desperation, New York started taking every shot they could get, but could not sink one of them.

"[Phoenix] is a good shooting team," said Laimbeer. "Give them credit. They made some shots, but it's still at the same time we had a chance to win, and we couldn't get it done."

The Liberty dropped its first loss since June 7 snapping its six-game winning streak.

"You get ready for tomorrow," said Rodgers. "You learn from this game. We played them in four or five days, so we just have to learn from this game and move on."