NEWARK, N.J. — After getting blown out in their last game two days earlier, New York Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer expected a much better effort from his team and he got it. For the most part.
Plenette Pierson scored nine of her 22 points in the fourth quarter as the Liberty recovered after giving up nearly all of a 19-point lead in the third quarter and beat the Seattle Storm 66-57 on Tuesday night. Pierson came off the bench for the fourth straight game and shot 8 for 15 from the field and 6 for 8 on free throws.
“Before the game I thought we were in a better place today,” Laimbeer said. “Our legs were with us from yesterday. Sunday we just weren’t with it ... we just played awful. I thought we would come out and play a little better (tonight) and we did.”
New York (6-7) was coming off a 29-point loss at home to Chicago on Sunday, their third straight defeat and fifth in the previous six.
Laimbeer also made a lineup change, starting Cappie Pondexter at point guard for the first time this season. She finished with 13 points on 5-for-19 shooting from the field and had eight rebounds and four assists.
Laimbeer had been thinking about the change for a while and decided to do it now.
“I wanted to see it now, I don’t want to wait until the end of the year,” he said. “I think in the long term, whether the long term is this year or for sure next year, I think that is her position. I think she learned in the last few games, in games that were out of control. Tonight she did very well in her first time.
“She didn’t shoot well, but I think she’s thinking more about other things. I’ll get her back on thinking about scoring, too. But I thought for the most part she did pretty well handling the ball. She pushes the ball really well.
Pondexter got off to a slow scoring start and didn’t have any points until hitting a 3-pointer near midway through the second quarter. She missed her first four shots, including a last-second heave from more than three-quarters court at the end of the first quarter.
However, she was also pleased with the way she ran the offense.
“I got everybody involved,” Pondexter said. “We pushed the ball up the floor, the tempo was great. ... I was happy with our energy level from the beginning to the end of the game.”
Tina Thompson scored 13 points and Tanisha Wright added 12 for the Storm (5-8), losers of five of their last six. Seattle lost three of four on a road swing against Eastern Conference teams. Seattle, which bounced back from 14 points down in the first quarter of a victory at Chicago on July 2, trailed by 17 after one quarter against New York.
“We’ve been having poor starts for a while now,” Thompson said. “It’s something we’re going to have to find a solution to. As the game continues to go, we get better, we’re playing more efficient and executing. At the beginning of the game we’re having rough starts. ... If we had an answer we probably would have fixed it by now.”
After Toni Young’s jumper in the opening possession of the third quarter extended the Liberty’s lead to 38-19, the Storm went on a 20-2 run to pull within a point on Alysha Clark’s layup with 2:58 remaining in the period.
“Seattle made some shots, turned the heat on us defensively,” Laimbeer said. “We got a little rattled, started turning the ball over. It’s unfortunate because that’s been our downfall in games that we’ve lost this year. Something we always have to keep working on.”
Pondexter made two free throws 14 seconds later and Pierson followed with a bank shot less than 30 seconds later to push the lead back to five.
Noelle Quinn’s 3-pointer in the opening minute of the fourth pulled Seattle within three, and the Liberty scored the next seven points to extend the margin to 10 on Pondexter’s layup with 7:45 remaining. Seattle got no closer than six the rest of the way.
“We’re a veteran group out there,” Pondexter said. “We have players that know how to get it done at all costs. The last five minutes we really came in and played defense and executed.”
Katie Smith scored five points as the Liberty had 11 consecutive points to take an 11-3 lead just more than 4 minutes into the game. Thompson, who had opened the scoring with 3-pointer, had a layup to pull Seattle to 15-7 about 3 minutes later. However, the Liberty scored the next nine points — capped by Leilani Mitchell’s 3 with 15.7 seconds remaining in the period — to take a 24-7 lead after 10 minutes.
The Storm used a 7-2 run to pull within 12 less than 3 minutes into the second quarter. However, the Liberty scored the next seven points to take a 33-14 lead with 3:09 left in the first half.
Pierson scored eight points to help New York to its 17-point advantage at halftime. Thompson led the Storm with eight points.
Rookies Kelsey Bone, the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft, made her first start of the season for the Liberty and finished with four points and four rebounds in about 25 1/2 minutes. Toni Young, selected No. 7, made her second start — first since the season opener — and had eight points and four boards in about 14 1/2 minutes.
The Liberty honored Thompson before the game as former Liberty players Kym Hampton and Taj McWilliams-Franklin, currently an assistant, presented her with a bouquet of flowers. Thompson, the WNBA’s all-time leading scorer and the only player to have appeared in each of league’s 17 seasons, has announced she’s retiring at the end of the year.