Sophie Cunningham changed the momentum of the eventual victory of the first round of the Phoenix Mercury over the New York Liberty in the Grand Canyon University Arena on Thursday night when she converted on a 4-point game that reduced Mercury’s deficit by three to 5: 38 dropped. in the third quarter.
Cunningham turned off a three-pointer after a review showed an error before the shot just 10 seconds earlier. She tried for the home run to regain the momentum her team lost when the call was reversed, and she knocked it out of the park. It was the second of six tries for her that night when she missed just one shot from outside the arc en route to 21 points off the bench. She averaged just 5.6 during the regular season and her previous season high was 17.
“The energy just wasn’t there in the second half,” Cunningham said. ‘You win or you go home. Honestly, my biggest thing was bringing the energy and getting the ball to Sky (lar Diggins-Smith) and BG (Brittney Griner) when they needed it. But then I just got it. … When I’m open, I’re shooting the ball. ”
Cunningham’s next try comes just a minute later, giving Phoenix a two-point lead. She was immediately asked for technical error for her celebration, but she corrected it with her fourth triple of the game 38 seconds later, a bucket that gave the Mercury a one-point lead.
Cunningham did not continue to force her shot, although she had the warm hand, so Diggins-Smith (22 points, five assists) and Griner (16 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, three blocks), the team’s superstars, could also get involved. Her next attempt of 3 points was the miss at 6:13 in the fourth. Her fifth make makes the Mercury within one within 3:39, and her sixth gives them a lead of 1:13. Every three meant so much, especially the last one.
“She does an excellent job of reading from us, and puts a lot of effort into bringing energy to both sides of basketball,” Diggins-Smith said of Cunningham. “It comes as no surprise to us. If she’s open, we’re confident she’s not going to miss two in a row. … The next one was more important than the previous one, and it really involved the crowd. ”
Diggins-Smith followed Cunningham’s last three with a 50-second deficit to play, giving Phoenix a 3-point lead. However, Betnijah Laney, who may be proving that New York, at least for this season, was her team and not Natasha Howard or Sabrina Ionescu, confidently buried a try that left the game with 2.7 seconds left. It got her to 25 points.
Diana Taurasi, who did not play due to her ankle injury, was subsequently frustrated on the sidelines, but Phoenix would eventually come through. Griner gave a good pass to Brianna Turner, who got a quiet serve and was overtaken by Sami Whitcomb with 0.4 seconds left. Turner made one of two free kicks, and then Griner ended the game save on Ionescu without getting buzzed. Ionescu’s deep, desperate three fell to the edge and Phoenix won 83-82.
The Mercury tackles the Seattle Storm (ABC) in the second round on Saturday at 3 p.m.