WASHINGTON (AP) -- Currently outside of playoff position in the Eastern Conference, the New York Liberty needed a strong start to the second half of the season. They used a strong inside game to get a much needed victory.
Kara Braxton scored a season-high 22 points, Cappie Pondexter had 11 of her 19 points in the fourth quarter and the Liberty again dominated the Washington Mystics in an 88-78 victory Wednesday night.
Plenette Pierson added 16 points, and Kelsey Bone had 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Liberty (8-11), who had lost four of five games.
Braxton made her first 10 shots from the field, including six in the first half, and finished 11 of 14 overall. Bone sank 7 of 9 shots.
"We played very well, but this game was about our center position," Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said.
New York held a 56-26 points-in-the-paint advantage and outrebounded Washington 43-34.
"That's by far (Kara's) best game of the year along with Kelsey," Laimbeer said. "Both of those players really stood up for us today in a game that was very important to us."
Though Braxton modestly denied her importance to the outcome, she backed her coach's take on her performance compared to others this year.
"I concur," said a smiling 6-foot-6 center, sitting in the Liberty's locker room with ice packs draped on her knees. "I feel like I tried to do everything I could do. If I messed up, I tried to do a 100 percent mess up. I'm proud of the team and the way we played today."
Trailing 62-61 early in the fourth quarter in the back-and-forth game, the Liberty took the lead for good on Bone's jumper with 8:59 remaining. The basket started a 13-2 run, capped by Pondexter's 3-pointer with 5:59 remaining for a 74-64 lead. She also had nine assists in the game, which was watched by Wizards' star John Wall, who was sitting courtside..
Matee Ajavon had a season-high 20 points for the Mystics (9-9).
New York won four of five against Washington last season, including the last three. In the first of four meetings between the two teams this season, All-Star Ivory Latta and Emma Meesseman each scored 11 for Washington.
The Mystics stayed close from the free throw line, making 18 of 20, but shot an unsightly 4 of 21 from beyond the 3-point arc.
They also stayed a little close to last season's five-win form according to their coach.
"I thought tonight we saw some of the symptoms of the past a little bit," Washington's Mike Thibault said. "Hopefully that's not true, but I thought we got out-physicaled tonight."
The Liberty held a 12-point lead in the fourth as they improved to 3-7 on the road. Washington closed within six points in the final 16 seconds, but would get no closer.
"We can't continue to go back and forth with teams like that," Latta said. "It's all about the defensive end. We have to do a better job of boxing out their post players."
New York led after each quarter and 35-33 entering the second half. Braxton continued her interior domination with three field goals as the Liberty pulled ahead 45-38.
Ajavon scored seven points in the quarter to help Washington cut it to 59-58 entering the fourth, but New York stayed resolute.
"I think we came with a purpose today," said Laimbeer, whose team sits one-game behind idle Indiana for the fourth and final playoff berth. "I don't think we came with a purpose last week for whatever reason. ...We took care of the ball in the second half and got some things done."
Both teams played their first game since the All-Star break. Braxton feasted inside quickly, scoring New York's initial five baskets and the Liberty started 6 of 6 from the field for a 12-2 lead.
"That's just something we focused in on," Braxton said of the interior looks. "We just needed more inside presence. I've been getting drilled on it the last couple of weeks. I just tried to do whatever I could."
Washington, which only shot 28.9 percent in the first half and 36.4 overall, countered with a 10-2 run as the margin stayed within five points for the remainder of the half.