Rare is the occasion a star athlete surpasses fan expectations on his or her bobblehead night.
Sunday night was rare.
Sue Bird upstaged her pint-sized avatar, scorching Phoenix for 31 points on 10-for-11 shooting in an 83-68 blowout win at KeyArena on Sue Bird Bobblehead Night.
Returning to the lineup after a strained hip flexor kept her out of Seattle’s 83-59 loss in Los Angeles Saturday, Bird’s shots fell early against an injury-riddled Mercury team missing Diana Taurasi. Bird knocked down the first of her five threes on Seattle’s opening set, then pulled up and drained a pair of mid-range jumpers on the next two possessions.
After Camille Little, who finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, extended the Storm lead to nine, Bird capped a frantic opening sequence with another three from the left side to give Seattle a 12-0 lead.
“She was calling a lot of her own number which is sort of unusual for her,” head coach Brian Agler said after his club moved to 8-9. “She understood the importance of this game and she looked like she was fresh compared to everybody else out on the floor that was coming off the back-to-back. That’s as well as I’ve seen anyone shoot the ball.”
Just two points shy of the career-best 33 she scored against Portland her rookie season, Bird had a tough time explaining her fantastic night from the field.
“The points just came. If you look, it was not like I was chucking shots,” she said. “A lot of them were out of the offense. Sometimes they just drop like that. I wasn’t really doing anything . . . I wasn’t forcing anything.”
Bird knocked down her first nine shots en route to 26 first-half points. The Storm followed the 11-year-veteran’s lead, taking a 45-28 lead into the half with another gritty defensive effort at home. Seattle held the Mercury to 33 percent shooting while extending its lead to 22 points in the second half in a game it never trailed.
The Storm went without two key post players, Ann Wauters (hamstring) and Tina Thompson, who strained her left knee Saturday in the blowout loss in LA. So others stepped up to further frustrate a Mercury club (4-12) that entered the night reeling. Phoenix’s leading scorer, forward DeWanna Bonner, went just 2-10 with 12 points.
“I thought it was really good, especially in the first half,” Agler said when asked to assess the defense. “I just think Tanisha and Katie and Camille– they’ll never go down in historical records as the best defenders in the league because they don’t get the steals and they don’t get the rebounds, but in regards to just doing their job defensively and having the ability to guard people one-on-one, they are as good as there is.”
The victory extended Seattle’s home winning streak to five while reaffirming its dominance against the Mercury. The Storm has won its past five against Phoenix. Seattle shot a season-high 52.6 percent from beyond the arc while limiting the Mercury to 2-17 shooting from three-point range.
After a 1-7 start to the season, Agler set an eight-win goal for his club before the WNBA takes a break for the 2012 Summer Olympics.
“So we’re there, but I told them not to be satisfied with that,” he said before the Storm take two days to prepare for a home tilt with the Atlanta Dream Wednesday. “Let’s help ourselves a little more. We can get to .500 on Wednesday.”