Seattle 66, Houston 49
SEATTLE, Aug. 28 (AP) - Sue Bird wasn't asked to be a scorer at the Olympics. The Seattle Storm, though, need her to do just that with star Lauren Jackson sidelined for the rest of the regular season.
Bird returned from her gold medal-winning performance with the U.S. team in Beijing to score 22 points and the Storm started the post-Olympic break with an impressive 66-49 win over the Houston Comets on Thursday night.
On the day Jackson, the reigning WNBA MVP, underwent ankle surgery in Australia that will keep her out the rest of the regular season, Bird and her teammates showed the Storm can survive without one of the best players in the world.
"I was just taking what was coming my way. I don't think I played any different than I have all season,'' Bird said.
Seattle went 3-2 in five games without Jackson before the Olympic break. The Storm (18-9) remained one-half game behind San Antonio in the Western Conference, and improved to 14-1 at home.
Bird, who was asked to be a distributor for the U.S. team, rekindled her scoring ability in the first half against Houston. Bird had 15 points in the first half for Seattle, which scored the first seven points and never trailed.
Bird had no problem bypassing on scoring while with the U.S. team.
"On a team like the Olympic team, you don't have to be so aggressive it will just come. ... In terms of scoring it was just whoever got it, got it,'' Bird said. "I obviously didn't get it as much as the others, but that's cool. I was more than happy to play my role.''
It helped that Bird's offensive performance was combined with a stellar defensive effort, as Seattle held Houston to a season low in points and field goal percentage, winning for the 10th time in 12 games.
Sancho Lyttle had 10 points, but the Comets' top reserve had to be carried off the court with 6 minutes left in the game after appearing to injure her left leg. Lyttle was one of the few Comets to have her shooting touch.
Houston missed its first five shots and never recovered from the slow start, shooting just 28 percent. Olympian Tina Thompson looked fatigued and scored just eight points on 2-of-10 shooting.
"I'm tired, but I'm always tired,'' Thompson said. "That hasn't stopped me before, so I'm not exactly sure. We can't continue to play like this and expect to have a chance to be in the playoffs.''
There was rust on both sides, as Houston last played July 26 and Seattle on July 27. Bird shook her head in disgust when a basic pick-and-roll with Yolanda Griffith fell apart and resulted in a three-point play for Houston's Roneeka Hodges, who had 10 points.
But Seattle's defense was solid from the beginning and the Storm put the game away early in the third quarter. Already leading 38-24 at halftime, Bird started Seattle's 14-2 run with a driving three-point play. The Storm held Houston scoreless for more than 7 minutes and Houston made just three shots the entire quarter.
"I thought it was the best we've played defensively, and we've done a good job all year,'' Seattle coach Brian Agler said. "We did some things out there that we didn't even talk about doing. It was just great instinctual play by our players.''
Swin Cash, who had six points for the Storm, was fined by Agler during the Olympic break for not staying in Seattle and working out with the team, instead spending time in New York doing commentary on the Olympic basketball games.