New York Liberty's Walt Hopkins: Refs don't give us respect because we're 'a young team'

A call and a no-call in the final second both went the fifth-seeded Mercury's way in Thursday's 83-82 win over the No. 8 seed New York Liberty in a first-round single-elimination WNBA playoff game in Phoenix.

Although Liberty coach Walt Hopkins didn't think either of those decisions was wrong, he said afterward that his team in general got the short end of the stick from officials -- not just in this game, but all season.

"There are a lot of things I want to say about the officiating in the WNBA and about the lack of respect this team's gotten all season," Hopkins said. "But I can't say that, because referees are above reproach. They don't have to go to a press conference after games. They don't have to explain the mistakes they made, why they did what they do.

"I don't know where the accountability's gonna come from, but it needs to happen. It was a bad season. The way they treated us was bad."

The Mercury move into the second round, where Phoenix will play another single-elimination game at fourth-seeded Seattle on Sunday.

Hopkins said he thought the refs' treatment of the Liberty was due to the fact they had so many younger players, although on Thursday, only one younger player -- second-year guard Sabrina Ionescu -- was in the Liberty's starting lineup. The other four starters all have at least five years' experience in the WNBA, and two of them are two-time league champions. New York's Michaela Onyenwere, who was the Associated Press Rookie of the Year and is expected to win that award from league, too, played just under nine minutes and didn't score.

Hopkins said he felt throughout this season, the Liberty, who were last in the league in 2020 with just two victories, didn't get the benefit of the doubt from officials. Thursday, the Liberty were called for 22 fouls compared with 15 for the Mercury and were 6-of-7 from the line compared with Phoenix's 15-of-18.

Phoenix's last trip to the stripe came when forward Brianna Turner was fouled under the basket by guard Sami Whitcomb with the score tied and just 0.4 seconds left. Turner's first free throw spun around the rim and out, but she made the second to put Phoenix up 83-82.

After calling a timeout, New York advanced the ball to halfcourt and got it into Ionescu's hands for a quick 3-point shot. She was guarded by Phoenix center Brittney Griner and fell after shooting.

Ionescu said that while Griner made contact, she wasn't sure if it came before or after the buzzer. Hopkins said he was less concerned with those two particular calls and more with others that occurred throughout the game.

The Liberty, in the playoffs for the first time since 2017, were trying to become the second No. 8 seed to win a postseason game since the WNBA went to the current playoff system in 2016.

That year, No. 8 Phoenix beat No. 5 Indiana. But the No. 8 seed has lost the subsequent five seasons. This year and last year, though, the 5-8 game was decided by just one point, with the Mercury being the winner both times. This year, Phoenix had to do it without star Diana Taurasi, who missed the game with an ankle injury.

"There were multiple plays where we didn't just get calls, a free throw discrepancy ... it was 18-7 tonight," Hopkins said. "If anyone wants to say it's because we shoot a lot of 3's, well we outscored them in the paint 34-30. It's not because we don't go to the rim. It's because we don't get respect, because we're a young team."