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Originally published July 9, 2013 at 7:49 PM | Page modified July 9, 2013 at 11:26 PM

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Storm falls behind early again, loses to Liberty, 66-57

Seattle scores seven points in the first quarter and loses for the fifth loss in six games.

Special to The Seattle Times

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NEWARK, N.J. – In a few months, it may all seem like a small bump in a rewarding season, but right now the growing pains of replacing team leaders and identifying new roles is frustrating.

And the worst part for the Seattle Storm is the answers it so desperately craves are not being found.

Another seven-point first quarter led to another big deficit, and although the Storm trimmed the New York Liberty’s big lead to a point in the third quarter, it was too much to overcome in a 66-57 loss in front of 5,766 Tuesday at the Prudential Center.

“We need to find a way to get off to better starts,” Storm coach Brian Agler said. “If I had the answer, I’d probably try to fix it, so I don’t know what the answer is but we’ve got to keep searching.”

The Storm (5-8) is still trying to find its way in the seasonlong absence of Sue Bird and Lauren Jackson. This marked the third straight game it scored seven points in the first quarter, and it led to the fifth loss in six games, and the slow starts are taking a toll.

“When I walked into the (halftime locker room), we had a conversation and I looked around and we had people hanging our heads a little bit,” Agler said. “I said: ‘Look, no one said this was going to be easy this year but there’s no use to hang our heads. We can fight ourselves back in this game.’

“Our goals of making the playoffs haven’t changed. You have to have a short memory in this league. You have to have a lot of resiliency, and I think we have a team that has that, but we’re going to find out more down the road.”

The Storm’s frantic rally from a 38-19 deficit early in the second half to pull to 40-39 on Alysha Clark’s layin with 2:58 left in the third quarter brought hope of a comeback similar to its win at Chicago. But the Storm spent the rest of the night chasing the game, and particularly Alex Montgomery, who played at Lincoln High School in Tacoma.

She scored a game-high 22 points, including 14 in the second half, to pace the Liberty. Cappie Pondexter scored 13 points on 5-for-19 shooting.

The Storm was led by Tina Thompson’s 13 points. Tanisha Wright had 12 points and Noelle Quinn chipped in 10, but it wasn’t enough to offset a dreadful first quarter in which the Storm shot 3 for 14 from the field, was outworked near the basket and did not get back in transition defense well.

“We came out in the third quarter with a lot more energy and a lot more determination,” said Storm point guard Temeka Johnson, who had five points and five assists in 30 minutes. “It’s not a concern because we know we need to fix it. It’s just been happening. I really don’t have an answer why.”

Although the Storm trimmed the gap to a point, the Liberty (6-7) responded quickly as a pair of Pondexter free throws and a nine-foot jumper from Plenette Pierson pushed the lead to 44-39.

The Liberty opened the fourth with a 7-3 run to take a 56-46 lead with 7:45 left.

“I feel like we’re working hard defensively,” Thompson said. “It’s not like we’re bad or not having a great effort on defense. We had a low point total, but it’s not like the Liberty’s were high either. At halftime, they had 36 points.”

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