Without Bird and forward Alysha Clark, who missed her first game due to a sprained right ankle, Breanna Stewart tried to pick up the slack and finished with a game-high 27 points on 8-for-20 shooting and nine rebounds.
The Storm is being careful in its handling of Sue Bird to ensure the oldest player in the WNBA makes it to the end of her 16th season.
With the finish line in mind, coach Dan Hughes gave the 37-year-old star the night off Tuesday to rest – a precaution that left Seattle without its future Hall of Fame point guard against visiting Las Vegas, which had lost five of its previous seven games.
It was the second time this year Bird sat out to rest and for the second time, the Storm lost without its floor leader, this time falling flat in the fourth quarter in an 89-77 defeat Tuesday night in front of 6,395 at KeyArena.
“You’re just trying to put her health for the season always as a priority,” said Hughes, who made the decision to bench Bird minutes before Tuesday’s game. “There’s not like a plan out there as much as just reacting to putting Sue in the best situation to have health for the season as opposed to for the moment.”
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Without Bird and forward Alysha Clark, who missed her first game of the season due to a sprained right ankle, Breanna Stewart was left to pick up the slack.
The 6-foot-4 star forward finished with a game-high 27 points on 8-for-20 shooting and nine rebounds.
Jewell Loyd added 14 points and seven assists, but the Storm (8-4) received very little production from the rest of the roster.
“It’s the league,” Loyd said when asked about the difficulty of playing without two starters. “You’ve got to be prepared to play without people.”
The last time the Storm played without Bird, Seattle lost 94-90 at Dallas two weeks ago.
On Tuesday, the teams combined to shoot 0 for 9 from the field before Las Vegas rookie sensation A’ja Wilson sank a putback with 7:40 left in the first quarter.
Soon after, Noelle Quinn, who started in place of Bird, drained a long jumper to get Seattle on the scoreboard with 6:54 on the clock.
But the Storm fell behind 17-3 when Kayla McBride converted a four-point play with 3:36 remaining in the first.
At that point, it was obvious Seattle wasn’t going to bury the Aces beneath an avalanche of points like the previous matchups, when the Storm topped the century mark in each of its previous wins while averaging 103 points.
“We had three points after five minutes, so I think we could tell that it was going to be a little bit different type of a game,” Stewart said. “Still with that, we made shots. We made plays. We just didn’t make enough.”
Seattle spent the rest of the first half erasing its 14-point deficit.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis, who started in place of Clark, knotted the score at 36 with 1:46 left, and Stewart gave the Storm its first lead (39-38) with 34.9 seconds remaining in the half.
The Storm led 62-56 late in the third and went into the fourth with the score knotted at 64.
Seattle had difficulty stopping Wilson, who finished with 25 points and 16 rebounds, but it was Tamera Young who triggered the decisive run that put the game away.
The backup forward scored nine of her 17 points during a 19-6 Las Vegas run in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter. The Storm fell behind 83-70 with 4:29 left and never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.
“They made a couple of tough plays in that stretch,” Hughes said. “It was a physical game. I thought we were fighting, but they just made more tough plays down the stretch than we did, to be honest with you. And you have to give them credit for that.”
The Storm converted just 4 of 26 three-pointers. Loyd was 1 for 8 and Stewart 1 for 7 behind the arc. However, Hughes lamented a 47-30 rebounding disparity that favored Las Vegas, which corralled 14 offensive rebounds.
The Aces outscored the Storm 17-2 on second-chance points in a physical game in which both teams collected 18 personal fouls.
“Teams try to punk us a lot,” Loyd said. “They think we’re not tough. That’s the only way they can really try to mess with us is make it a tough game. But it is what it is. We beat them twice, so they came in with a chip on their shoulder.”
Bird, who should be available when Seattle concludes a five-game homestand at 7 p.m. Friday against Indiana, but Clark isn’t likely to play.
If the Storm is unable to give Bird rest, then Hughes will need to figure out how to help the 10-time WNBA All-Star improve what’s shaping up to be her worst statistical season.
Through 10 games, she’s tied for first in the the league with 5.9 assists per game, but she’s averaging 8.6 points, 25.5 minutes while shooting 35.3 percent from the field, 29.8 on three-pointers and 75.0 at the free throw line – all career lows.
“Do I want (Bird) out there?” Hughes said. “Yes. In a perfect world, I’m always going to put her out there.
“It’s a common theme this year with teams. If your health is really good, you’re blessed. But a lot of us are dealing with starters out of the lineup and what have you.
“And we all have to find ways to make that work when those things happen.”