- Associated Press - Sunday, June 4, 2017

NEW YORK (AP) - Kiah Stokes is starting to play like she did her rookie season, giving short-handed New York a big boost.

Stokes had a career-high 23 points and 14 rebounds to help the Liberty beat the Phoenix Mercury 88-72 on Sunday.

“I think she’s in a good place and I think she’s shown great progress,” New York coach Bill Laimbeer said. “Works very hard right now and the results are showing.”

It’s the second straight game that Stokes has had had a career high in points and finished with a double-double.

“I focus on doing my assignment and doing what I’m supposed to do,” Stokes said.

New York drafted her in 2015 and she finished second in rookie of the year voting that season.

Shavonte Zellous added 21 points, and Tina Charles had 16 for New York (4-3). The Liberty, who are missing Epiphanny Prince and Kia Vaughn for the EuroBasket tournament, are 2-1 on a five-game homestand.

Brittney Griner scored 26 points, and Diana Taurasi added 17 for Phoenix (4-3).

“It shows you that it happens a lot in sports when you’re missing people it gives the opportunity for other people to step up and play big,” Taurasi said. “Today showed what type of player Kiah is.”

The Liberty built a 14-point lead in the first half before the Mercury chipped away. New York led 56-54 midway through the third quarter before outscoring Phoenix 16-9 the rest of the period. Zellous had seven points during that run to close the period, including getting it started with a three-point play. Phoenix could only get within nine in the fourth quarter.

The teams played on May 23 in Phoenix and the Liberty came away with a two-point win. Taurasi was suspended for the game for a foul she committed in the game before.

Stokes helped the Liberty jump out to a 33-20 lead before Griner got going offensively to bring the Mercury within 47-41 at the half. Stokes finished the opening 20 minutes with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Griner had 19 first-half points.

“When she’s 6-foot-5 and built like a superwoman. She’s hard to keep out,” Phoenix coach Sandy Brondello said about Stokes. “She got a lot of baskets off offensive rebounds. She’s not just a defensive player, she’s get more comfortable on offense.”

TIP-INS:

Mercury: Taurasi had on her shoes “DT” and “3”, fitting now that she’s the WNBA career leader in 3-pointers made, passing Liberty assistant coach Katie Smith in her last game. Sunday was Smith’s 43rd birthday. … Griner failed to block a shot for the first time since June 27, 2016 She is still tied for eighth on the career blocks list with Taj McWilliams Franklin (443).

Liberty: New York signed Chelsea Hopkins on Saturday to bolster the guard spot. … The last time the Liberty won consecutive games was July 17-20, 2016, against Connecticut and Washington.

UP NEXT:

Mercury: finish off a three-game trip in Indiana on Wednesday.

Liberty: hosts Atlanta in a day game Wednesday.

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