Natasha Howard leads Liberty to key win over Mercury

NEW YORK (AP) — Natasha Howard had 23 points and 12 rebounds to help the New York Liberty beat the Phoenix Mercury 89-69 on Sunday.

Sabrina Ionescu had 10 points, 16 assists and eight rebounds for New York. Her assist total equaled the WNBA record for a game in the regular season, matching Ticha Penicheiro (twice), Courtney Vandersloot and Sue Bird. Vandersloot set the all-time mark of 18 for Chicago in the 2020 playoffs against Indiana.

Rebecca Allen added 17 points and Crystal Dangerfield also had a season-high 17 for the Liberty (11-18), who stayed within the mix for one of the final playoff spots with seven games remaining. New York will play all of those games against teams that the Liberty are chasing in the standings.

Phoenix (13-17) got 21 points from Sophie Cunningham.

Skylar Diggins-Smith and Diana Taurasi, who have been playing well since the All-Star break, had 13 and 12 points respectively and were a combined 8 for 30 from the field. Diggins also had 11 assists.

The Liberty scored the first seven points of the game and extended the advantage to 35-27 at the half.

New York led by as many as 18 in the third quarter on a 3-pointer by Allen before Phoenix was able to get within seven late in the period. The Liberty put the game away early in the fourth quarter.