NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Essence Carson scored 20 points and Cappie Pondexter added 16 to lead the New York Liberty past the last-place Washington Mystics 79-73 on Saturday.
Kara Braxton had 14 points, including eight in a decisive 11-0 run in the second quarter, to help New York (10-16) snap a three-game losing streak. Carson shot 8 for 13 from the field and also had six assists. The Liberty moved into a tie for fourth place in the Eastern Conference with Chicago, which played at Indiana later. Atlanta is 3 1/2 games ahead in third.
“Every game is crucial at this point,” said Carson, who got a rare start after usually being the Liberty’s first player off the bench. “We have to think that we need every game. We had to win a game like this, especially with the situation we’re in.”
Pondexter, bothered by sore Achilles on both feet, believes New York has to win seven of its final nine games to secure a postseason berth.
“If we want to make the playoffs, that’s what we need to do,” she said. “We also have to count on others to lose. Destiny is not in our own hands. We have a chance to make up the difference and get in.”
Pondexter knew that she wasn’t feeling well and tried to play through the pain, but shot just 6 for 18.
“It was great that Essence stepped up,” Pondexter said. “I’m happy we got the win. It’s more important than me getting 20 points. I just wanted to give as much effort as I could.”
Liberty head coach John Whisenant was pleased with the team effort.
“We told them that it didn’t matter who we were playing, that we had to play hard,” Whisenant said. “Essence came back and played well. She got more minutes. We shook the starting lineup around a little, not for any reason. It seemed to work.”
Monique Currie scored 20 points, Crystal Langhorne had 19 points and eight rebounds, and Jasmine Thomas added 18 for Washington (5-21), which lost its fifth straight.
“In the second quarter we got stagnant with the offense and scored only 12 points,” Mystics coach Trudi Lacey said. “Down the stretch we had a couple crucial turnovers, but for the most part we competed very hard. They’re big, they’re physical and we it took us a little bit out of our game.”
The Mystics took a 20-15 lead with about 2 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter on two consecutive drives by Langhorne and a power move from Thomas. The Liberty responded with the final seven points of the period, taking a two-point lead on Pondexter’s three-point play with 23 seconds remaining.
New York increased the lead to 29-24 on Leilani Mitchell’s 3-pointer with 6:49 to go in the second quarter.
The Liberty then went on its 11-0 run with Braxton taking over in the paint, making four baskets from close range to take a 40-26 lead with 3 1/2 minutes left in the first half.
Carson had 11 points in the opening 20 minutes and Braxton scored 10 to give New York a 45-32 lead at the break. Langhorne had eight to lead the Mystics.
“We had some periods when we weren’t executing and weren’t scoring,” Currie said. “New York was able to take advantage of that.”
Pondexter, who shot just 2 for 8 in the first half, found her touch in the third quarter. She scored nine points in the quarter as the Liberty extended their lead, with the biggest advantage at 55-37. New York led 63-50 heading to the fourth.
Washington pulled to 68-60 on a driving basket from Thomas, but the Liberty held off the charge. Thomas’ 3 with 7 seconds left provided the final margin.
“We still have to win the games we have left,” Whisenant said. “Nothing is an easy win. It was good that we got a win when we didn’t have to count on Cappie.”
Especially with Carson now playing well, after recovering from a shoulder injury.
“I’m starting to feel a little better now,” Carson said. “I think I’m returning to my old form and put the pedal to the metal. We can’t always count on Cappie.”