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Recaps: Mystics, Sparks fall, idle Liberty rise into playoffs

The New York Liberty experienced a stressful day of watching basketball, but were able to celebrate in the end as the Washington Mystics and Dallas Wings both lost, giving New York the eighth and final playoff spot.

Los Angeles Sparks v Dallas Wings
The Dallas Wings celebrate their Sunday victory over the Los Angeles Sparks, which sent the New York Liberty to the playoffs.
Photo by Tim Heitman/NBAE via Getty Images

With 0.3 seconds left on the clock, Satou Sabally saved a missed Erica Wheeler 3-pointer from going out of bounds and as she threw the ball in to teammate Isabelle Harrison the New York Liberty, who were not involved in the contest between the Dallas Wings and Los Angeles Sparks on Sunday at College Park Center in Arlington, Texas, were able to celebrate making the playoffs.

Wheeler’s three, which was contested and taken from a couple steps beyond the arc, would have tied the game for the Sparks, who would have clinched a postseason berth win an overtime win. That was the case because the Washington Mystics, who controlled their own playoff destiny entering the day, lost to the Minnesota Lynx.

Since both the Sparks, who lost 87-84, and the Mystics, who lost 83-77, failed to improve to 13-19, the Liberty won the tiebreaker between three eighth-place, 12-20 teams by virtue of a better head-to-head record against the other two. New York defeated Washington on Friday to claim the tiebreaker.

Wheeler was one of the most clutch players in the WNBA this year and hit a triple with 8.8 seconds remaining to cut LA’s deficit to three. She finished with 22 points, seven assists and two steals. Teammate Te’a Cooper (six assists) recorded her second-highest point total of the season with 24 while team leader Nneka Ogwumike added 18 points, 10 rebounds four helpers, two steals and two blocks in defeat.

The Wings, who were locked in at the seventh seed and simply playing for momentum, were led by Arike Ogunbowale’s 20 points. Ogunbowale also had three assists and two steals while Allisha Gray was good for 12 points, seven boards and three steals. Marina Mabrey added 16 points and five helpers to the winning cause and Isabelle Harrison chipped in with 14 points.

Dallas (14-18) led by 13 early in the fourth. Harrison was a perfect 7-of-7 from the field. N. Ogwumike was 4-of-5 from deep while Ogunbowale was 4-of-6 and Cooper was 3-of-5. The Wings attempted seven more free throws and made eight more.

The Lynx, who were playing for the No. 3 seed, also led by as many as 13 points, but the Mystics fought back all game long. Likely the MVP frontrunner if the Mystics had better team success, Tina Charles made a floater with 1:59 to go that cut Washington’s deficit to three. Charles’ fellow Olympian Ariel Atkins made free throws with 47 seconds remaining that cut it to two, but Minnesota (22-10) followed with a pair of free throws from both Layshia Clarendon and Aerial Powers to seal the victory.

Powers dropped a season-high 27 points on the team she won a championship with in 2019. She has scored 20-plus in four of her last six outings. Minnesota’s two superstars, Napheesa Collier (14 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two steals, two blocks) and Sylvia Fowles (eight points, 13 rebounds, two steals), showed up as well. Kayla McBride added 10 points and six boards while Clarendon dished out a game-high six assists.

A frequent assist-leader herself, Natasha Cloud was phenomenal in defeat. She notched a season-high 22 points to go along with five assists and two steals. Charles added 14 points, 13 rebounds and two steals and Atkins had 17 points and four helpers.

The Lynx attempted nine more free throws and made eight more.

Charles finishes the season as the scoring champion with 23.4 points per game, but fell short of Diana Taurasi’s WNBA record of 25.3.

Other action

Las Vegas Aces (24-8) over Phoenix Mercury (19-13), 84-83

JiSu Park blocked a Brianna Turner layup attempt with 0.9 seconds left to seal the victory for the Aces, who were locked in at the No. 2 seed but will use this one for momentum. Jackie Young made a mid-air putback layup with 4.3 seconds to go to give Vegas the lead. The Aces trailed by eight with 2:42 to go before seven-straight points from Kelsey Plum, who finished with 23.

Skylar Diggins-Smith started off 3-of-3 from three and finished with 17 points and seven assists in defeat. The Mercury were a great 14-of-30 (46.7 percent) from beyond the arc as a team. Phoenix was locked in as the fifth seed in the playoffs and will host the Liberty in the first round on Thursday at 10 p.m. ET (ESPN2).

Chicago Sky (16-16) over Indiana Fever (6-26), 98-87

Diamond DeShields averaged 16.2 points per game and was a big star in 2019, but has seen a decline in her play since then. Yet, though she yielded All-Star honors to three of her teammates this season, she played like an All-Star on Sunday, dropping 30 points to go along with seven rebounds, six assists and two steals. Getting her going entering the playoffs was big for Chicago, which also got 15 points and eight boards from Allie Quigley (4-of-7 from three). DeShields was 8-of-13 from the field and 13-of-16 from the free throw line. She is the only player in WNBA history with at least 30 points, five rebounds and five assists off the bench in a single game.

Kelsey Mitchell dropped 32 points and had four assists and two steals in defeat. She was 12-of-17 from the field (4-of-7 from three) and finishes the season at eighth in scoring average with 17.8 points per game. Emma Cannon (eight rebounds) added a season-high 19 points for the Fever, who played just six players. Teaira McCowan was good for 13 points and nine boards while Lindsay Allen notched 10 points and a season-high 10 assists.

The Sky were locked into the sixth seed. The Fever, meanwhile, finished in last place. Chicago hosts Dallas in the first round of the playoffs at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday (ESPN2).

Connecticut Sun (26-6) over Atlanta Dream (8-24), 84-64

Brionna Jones (14 points, 12 rebounds, three steals) and Jonquel Jones (15 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks) had double-doubles for the winners, who also got 16 points from Natisha Hiedeman and five points, seven boards and three assists from Alyssa Thomas, who was appearing in her second game back from a torn Achilles.

Courtney Williams had 18 points and six rebounds and Monique Billings (two steals) had 14 and six in defeat. The Dream struggled from beyond the arc (2-of-20). They also attempted and made 12 less free throws and were outrebounded 50-33.

Connecticut was locked into the No. 1 seed. The Dream, on the other hand, finished second-to-last.