Natasha Howard scored 24 points, 14 of them in a rollicking first half, and grabbed 10 rebounds as the New York Liberty stayed alive for a playoff berth with a definitive 91-80 win over the visiting Washington Mystics on Friday in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The Liberty played like a desperate team in the first half while rolling to an 18-point lead and never let off the accelerator. New York (12-20) completed its season, staved off elimination and can make the playoffs as the eighth and final seed if both Washington and Los Angeles lose their final games on Sunday.
Washington (12-19) could have clinched the final playoff berth with a win over the Liberty but was outplayed from the start. The Mystics will clinch the eighth spot with a win at home over Minnesota on Sunday and hold the tiebreaker with Los Angeles should they end the season with the same record as the Sparks.
Washington's loss clinched the seventh seed for Dallas regardless of the outcome of the Wings' finale Sunday against Los Angeles. Dallas will play at Chicago in the first round of the WNBA playoffs on Thursday.
Sabrina Ionescu added 22 points and nine assists for New York, with Sami Whitcomb scoring 13 and Betnijah Laney hitting for 10 and distributing 11 assists.
Ariel Atkins led all scorers with 29 points while Shatori Walker-Kimbrough added 12 points and Tina Charles scored 10 for Washington.
The Mystics played without coach Mike Thibault, who tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday and will miss Washington's final two games, and forward Elena Delle Donne (back), who did not travel to New York for Friday's contest.
Howard hit all five of her shots and scored 11 points in a torrid first quarter for the Liberty, with New York shooting 57.1 percent on the way to a 26-15 lead after 10 minutes.
The rout continued in the second quarter, with the Liberty extending its lead to 47-29. New York outshot the Mystics 53.6 percent to 30.6 percent in the half, made 7 of its 11 shots from beyond the arc, and outrebounded Washington 17-13.
Howard had 14 points and five rebounds at the break while Atkins led the Mystics with eight points on 3-for-9 shooting.
The Liberty opened the third quarter with a 10-4 run to take their largest lead, at 57-33, at the 7:30 mark of the period. But the Mystics would not go down without a fight, cutting their deficit to 68-61 on a 3-pointer by Walker-Kimbrough at the end of the period.
--Field Level Media