NEW YORK — Bill Laimbeer wasn’t surprised his star center reached another milestone so early in her career.
Charles scored 23 points, including her 4000th, to help New York beat Phoenix 92-70 on Saturday night.
“We talk about inside that she’s the best post player in the world, men or women.” the Liberty coach said. “She’s that consistent and that dominant. There’s more to her that we’re waiting to see.”
Charles, who also had 15 rebounds, became the sixth fastest player in WNBA history to reach that milestone and moved the Liberty closer to clinching at least the third seed in the playoffs. One more victory will assure New York of a bye in the first round and a home game in the second.
New York (20-9) got off to a slow start missing its first seven shots. The Liberty led 13-12 with just over 4 minutes left in the first quarter before outscoring Phoenix 16-2 the rest of the period. Charles had nine of the team’s points during that burst.
Phoenix (13-16), which lost in Connecticut on Friday night, was down 26 points in the third quarter before rallying within 11 early in the fourth quarter. The Mercury could get no closer.
“They played better, bottom line,” Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi said. “Not tired, no nothing. They were better than us today.”
New York led by 14 at the half and blew the game open early in the third as frustration was setting in for the Mercury. After Diana Taurasi drew contact on a play, but no foul was called, assistant coach Todd Troxel was ejected for arguing with the officials. That seemed to spark Phoenix, which trailed 68-42 at that point. The Mercury scored 13 of the next 16 to close within 71-55 after three.
Phoenix got within 73-62 early in the final period, but Charles hit a basket and then a three-point play by Brittany Boyd sealed the win. Boyd finished with a season-high 19 points, starting in place of Tanisha Wright (knee). New York, which has won 20 games in consecutive seasons, also was without Shoni Schimmel (concussion) and Kiah Stokes (hip).
Laimbeer said that he didn’t expect Stokes to play the rest of the regular season, but was hopefully to have at Wright back at some point soon. He wasn’t sure about Schimmel’s status since concussions are trickier to predict.
Marta Xargay led the Mercury with 16 points and DeWanna Bonner added 15.
Charles reached 4,000 points on a three-point play late in the second quarter. She’s the 29th player to achieve that mark and is the third youngest according to Elias Sports Bureau. The Liberty honored Charles, Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner before the game for helping the U.S. win a gold medal at the Rio Olympics. New York also honored Penny Taylor, who is retiring at the end of the season.
“It was nice,” Taylor said. “I try not to think about it and just play the games we have left.”