SEATTLE (AP) — The Phoenix Mercury had trouble containing Sue Bird on Sunday.
Bird scored 26 first-half points on her way to 31 for the game during Seattle’s 83-68 win over the Phoenix Mercury.
Bird missed one field goal attempt — a 3-pointer at the end of the second quarter — on her bobblehead night. She finished 10 for 11 from the field, 6 for 7 from the free throw line.
The 31 points were two shy of her career-high 33 set Aug. 9, 2002, during a win over Portland which pushed the Storm into their first playoff appearance.
“That’s about as well as I’ve seen anybody shoot the ball,” Storm coach Brian Agler said.
Bird was fresh because of recent rest. Her right hip, which was surgically repaired last fall, was bothering her again.
She sat out Saturday night’s loss in Los Angeles to the Sparks, and said she felt much better Sunday.
With two games remaining before the Olympic break, managing her hip will be crucial.
“Mostly, I would describe it as a nuisance,” Bird said. “There was a point after the Connecticut game last week, even walking, I could feel it, which I’ve never really had before. Usually it would just happen when I was playing.”
It was not a deterrent Sunday.
Bird’s offensive run began in the first quarter when she scored 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting, outscoring Phoenix 13-12.
A pull-up 15-footer on the break and three 3-pointers were among her field goals during the quarter, helping Seattle increase its lead to 22-12 by the end of the quarter.
Bird scored 13 more in the second, though she recorded her only two missed shots. She closed the half 9 for 10 from the field for 26 points, and added two rebounds and two assists.
A third-quarter 3-pointer pushed Bird to 29 points, her most since her career high in 2002. Two free throws upped her total to 31. She sat most of the fourth quarter and did not attempt a shot in the final quarter with Seattle well ahead.
Agler said Bird’s practice will be reduced in order to manage her health for the final two games before the break and beyond.
The Storm (8-9) has a chance to be over .500 before the Olympics begin, a distant thought when the team started the season 1-7.
Agler told his team weeks ago, if it could get to eight wins by the Olympics, it would be back in the playoff race.
“So, we’re there,” Agler said. “And I just told them today, don’t be satisfied with that.”
Camille Little added 18 points and Ewelina Kobryn scored 10 for the Storm.
Phoenix (4-13) is hurting. Penny Taylor has been out for the year because of a torn ACL, Olympian Diana Taurasi did not travel with the team because of a strained left hip flexor, and Candice Dupree did not play because of a knee contusion.
Without their three top players, the Mercury shot 27.6 percent in the first half and 32.8 percent for the game. DeWanna Bonner scored 10 points in the half, despite shooting 2-for-8 from the field and finished the night with a team-leading 12. The other four Phoenix starters combined for 22 points.
The Storm opened the game on a 12-0 run that forced a Phoenix timeout, despite Ann Wauters (strained left Achilles tendon) and Tina Thompson (left knee strain) not playing. Bird scored 10 points during the stretch, which ended when Bonner hit a baseline jumper.
A jumper from Kobryn pushed Seattle in front 17-4. The Storm never trailed.
“Every dog has its day, and it’s not our day,” Phoenix coach Corey Gaines said. “We’ll be back one day.”
— Copyright 2012 The Associated Press