NEWARK, N.J. -- Trailing late in the third quarter of a game they needed to win, the New York Liberty picked up their defensive intensity and ran away from the Washington Mystics.
Cappie Pondexter scored 22 points to lead the Liberty to a 75-62 victory over the last-place Mystics on Wednesday night. Nicole Powell had 15 points and Kia Vaughn added 10 points and 10 rebounds to help New York (13-17) finish 4-2 on a six-game homestand -- including two wins against Washington.
The Liberty also moved a half-game ahead of Chicago for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"It was an ugly win, but I'm glad we pulled it out in the fourth quarter," Pondexter said. "We focused a little more, we began to help each other. I thought we rebounded well, forced them to make tough jump shots."
Pondexter praised Vaughn's play in the final quarter, when the center and Plenette Pierson had eight points apiece to help New York outscore Washington 19-7 in the period. Vaughn had her first double-double of the season.
"I thought she played great down the stretch, she was confident," Pondexter said. "The last two games we actually were talking about that baseline jumper, where she's great at. She focused in on doing it ... especially in the fourth quarter. I'm happy she was finally able to display the kind of basketball she's been trying."
Monique Currie scored a season-high 24 points for Washington (5-25), which has lost nine straight. The Mystics dropped to 1-15 on the road this season, with their lone win against the Liberty on July 13 in the last game before the league's monthlong Olympic break.
"We played well throughout the game except for the fourth quarter," Currie said. "We got cold and the Liberty were able to take advantage of that."
The Liberty grabbed the lead with an 11-2 run that started at the end of the third and carried over into the fourth. Pondexter made a 3-pointer with about 28 seconds left in the third to put the Liberty in front 56-55, and Vaughn opened the fourth with back-to-back jumpers to extend the lead to five with 7:23 remaining.
Pondexter's 3 gave New York a 67-58 advantage with 4:43 to go, and Washington got no closer than seven the rest of the way. The Liberty scored the final six points of the game.
"We were struggling throughout the game," New York coach John Whisenant said. "Washington has been a difficult team for us. ... The thing that I was most pleased with was the fourth quarter, we showed that determination."
The Liberty are at Washington on Sunday, followed by stops in San Antonio and Tulsa before finishing the season at home against the Shock on Sept. 22. Chicago has five games remaining, including three on the road and three against playoff-bound teams Los Angeles, Seattle and Atlanta.
"Chicago's playing really well right now," Pondexter said. "The West Coast teams, everybody's clinched a playoff spot, so there's a big chance they could be resting their players. Chicago could actually have it easy going on their road trip."
Washington pulled within one on Currie's free throws in the opening minute of the third. Her layup with 8:18 to go in the period put the Mystics ahead for the first time at 40-39.
There were three ties and three lead changes over the next 3 minutes until Currie's layup started a 7-0 spurt that put the Mystics ahead 53-49 on Crystal Langhorne's layup with 3:41 to go. The Liberty then began their run, aided by a reversed call.
Shannon Bobbitt hit a 3 as the shot clock expired with 2:08 remaining in the third that appeared to stretch the Mystics' lead to seven. However, the basket was reviewed after the period and ruled to have come after the shot clock -- giving New York its one-point lead to start the fourth instead of being down two.
"They went to the monitor and looked at it and determined it was still in her hands," Washington coach Trudi Lacey said. "It was a big shot but that wasn't the difference in the game. ... They made shots in the fourth quarter and we didn't. We played well but they made the shots down the stretch and that was the difference."
Pondexter's 3 with about 3½ minutes remaining in the second quarter gave the Liberty a 30-22 lead -- their largest in the first half.
The Mystics then went on a 12-4 run. Jasmine Thomas had a layup and Currie made two free throws to cut Washington's deficit in half. Pondexter and Powell had jumpers around a layup by Currie, and the Mystics then scored six consecutive points to tie it at 34 on Langhorne's layup with about 10 seconds left in the half.
Leilani Mitchell's 3 with 2.4 seconds remaining gave the Liberty a three-point lead at the break.
Thomas was down on the court at the other end with an apparent injury to her right knee, and was carried off the court to the Mystics' bench by teammate Ashley Robinson and team trainer Navin Hettiarachchi. However, after a couple of minutes, she was able to walk to the locker room at halftime and played in the second half.