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Recaps: New York Liberty best Washington Mystics, extend battle for the eighth seed

The New York Liberty kept their postseason hopes alive with the win over the Washington Mystics, meaning the eighth seed will be determined on the final day of the regular season. In other action, the Las Vegas Aces secured the No. 2 seed and the double-bye. The Seattle Storm escaped to earn the fourth seed and a first-round bye.

Washington Mystics v New York Liberty
Natasha Howard shoots a fadeaway over the outstretched arm of Tina Charles during the Liberty’s 91-80 win over the Mystics.
Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

The battle for the eighth and final playoff spot will come down to the final day of the 2021 WNBA regular season!

Needing a win to keep their playoff hopes alive, the New York Liberty (12-20) turned in one of their better performances of the second half of the season, surviving the Washington Mystics (12-19) for the 91-80 win at Barclays Center on Friday night.

Some superb play from Natasha Howard spurred a strong start for New York. Howard scored 11 first-quarter points on a 5-for-5 performance from the field, unleashing her arsenal of shifty moves to shake Washington defenders. The Liberty led 25-15 after the first.

New York extended the margin over the course of the second quarter by bombing from behind the arc. It drilled five of its seven second-quarter 3-point attempts. Overall, the Liberty were 7-for-11 from 3-point range in the first half, led by a trio of triples from Rebecca Allen. For the game, they converted 10 treys, a performance that allowed them to claim the single-season team record for 3-pointers made with 321. The previous record of 316 belonged to the 2019 Washington Mystics.

However, the 2021 version of the Mystics would not let the Liberty coast to an easy win.

Down 47-29 at the halftime break after shooting just over 30 percent from the field, Washington turned in a 32-point third quarter where they shot 60 percent from the floor and 70 percent from 3-point range. Ariel Atkins, who had missed Washington’s last two games due to a death in her family, captained this effort, going 4-for-5 from behind the arc as she scored 17 points in the quarter. For the game, she totaled a game-high 29 points.

Washington whittled down New York’s once 24-point lead to seven points after three quarters, with the score sitting at 68-61 heading into the final period. Four minutes into the fourth, a layup from Atkins cut the margin to five points at 77-72.

For New York, the trajectory of the game was beginning to resemble the trajectory of its season, with a hot start turning into a stumble.

But the Liberty stabilized. A strong second half from Sabrina Ionescu helped them secure the win. While it has been an uneven season for the sophomore, Ionescu played with the poise many expected of her down the stretch of this contest. She scored 15 of her 22 points in the second half, including hitting a three, snagging a steal and sealing the win with a jumper in the final minutes. She finished with nine assists.

Howard led the Liberty with a double-double of 24 points and 10 rebounds. Betnijah Laney also had a double-double with 10 points and 11 assists, which tied her career high for dimes.

For Washington, New York native Tina Charles had a quiet scoring night, with the WNBA’s leading scorer totaling only 10 points. She did notch a season-high seven assists. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough added 12 points off the bench for the Mystics. In her first game since Aug. 31, Myisha Hines-Allen struggled to put the ball in the basket, going 3-for-12 from the field on her way to eight points.

Yet, the Mystics still control their destiny.

With a win on Sunday over the Minnesota Lynx, Washington will earn the eighth seed. While the Liberty kept their chances alive, they need both the Mystics and the Los Angeles Sparks to lose on Sunday in order to advance to the postseason. If the Mystics lose but the Sparks win, LA will claim the final playoff spot.

Other action

Minnesota Lynx (21-10) over Indiana Fever (6-25), 92-73

Another double-double from the all-time double-double queen helped the Lynx lock up a first-round bye. Sylvia Fowles had 21 points and 10 rebounds in less than 25 minutes of action. Encouragingly for Minnesota, Crystal Dangerfield, again starting at point guard for the injured Layshia Clarendon, had one of her better games of the season, scoring an efficient 15 points on a 3-for-5 effort from behind the arc. Kelsey Mitchell led Indiana with 26 points, which tied her season high.

Las Vegas Aces (23-8) over Chicago Sky (15-16), 103-70

The dangerousness of the Aces was on full display as they dominated the Sky. Vegas demolished Chicago on the glass, winning the rebound battle 47-19. Kiah Stokes had 13 boards while A’ja Wilson grabbed 10 rebounds. Wilson also was one of six Aces to score in double figures. Riquna Williams had a team-high 22 points. Kelsey Plum strengthened her Sixth Woman of the Year case with 22 points, six rebounds and a pair of assists and steals. However, the back-to-back reigning Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby also had a strong game of 17 points, seven rebounds and three steals.

The victory sealed the No. 2 seed and the highly-coveted double-bye for Vegas.

In contrast to the Aces, the Sky did not get contributions from across the lineup. While Candace Parker had 20 points and Kahleah Copper scored 18, no other Sky player scored more than seven points.

Seattle Storm (21-11) over Phoenix Mercury (19-12), 94-85

Facing the possibility of falling to the fifth seed, the Storm got a well-timed explosion from the Gold Mamba. After scoring only five points in her last game, Jewell Loyd dropped 22 points in the first quarter, displaying her delightful and diverse shotmaking ability. She finished with a career-high 37 points.

However, Loyd’s first-half bucket-getting brilliance almost was not enough. The Storm scored 61 points in the first half, but only 33 points in the second half. The Mercury, having trailed by as many as 22 points, used a 24-point fourth quarter to threaten Seattle down the stretch. Despite an efficient 26-point, 13-rebound and one-dunk performance from Brittney Griner, the Storm managed to escape and earn the fourth seed.