(Bradenton, FL) – The Seattle Storm picked up an impressive 87-71 win over Sabrina Ionescu and the New York Liberty in the opening game of the 2020 WNBA season. Breanna Stewart led the way for Seattle with 18 points, 8 rebounds and tied a career-high with four steals. All-Star guard Jewell Loyd added 14 points and three steals. And point guards Sue Bird and Jordin Canada were the other two players to score in double figures with 11 and 10 points a piece.
In the loss, the New York Liberty were led by Layshia Clarendon, who gave a nice opening ceremony speech to honor Breonna Taylor and other victims of social injustice and police brutality before the tip off, scored 20 points to lead all scorers in the game. Clarendon was extremely effective in slashing to the basket, especially in the first half where she scored 13 of her 20 points.
Number one overall pick, Sabrina Ionescu, struggled a bit in her WNBA debut. The triple double queen still finished the game with 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. Respectable numbers for any rookie. But she was not efficient at all, shooting just 4-17 from the floor including 0-8 from behind the three-point arc. Ionescu also committed four turnovers in the game.
Storm Head Coach Gary Kloppenburg said there was an emphasis for the team’s defense to slow down the talented rookie.
“That was part of our game plan, to try to disrupt her. We know how good she is if you allow her to do what she wants. We really wanted to target her, get it out of her hands, try to force turnovers. I think we did a pretty good job, for the first game, of doing that.”
This game had a similar vibe to several of the Storm’s games from their 2018 championship season in which the opposing team would play them close for a half or three quarters before the Storm would ultimately start to blow them out towards the end of the game.
While Seattle held a comfortable eight point lead after one quarter at 24-16. Seattle was up 12 at 24-12 with a couple minutes left in the first. From that point until about six minutes to go in the second quarter the Storm were held completely scoreless as the Liberty would outscore Seattle on a 13-0 run, putting the Liberty up 25-24.
This happened when the majority of Seattle’s starting lineup was on the bench. Although, this year their bench is supposed to be a massive strength, so that was a bit concerning to see as the offense became extremely stagnant without Bird, Stewart, or Loyd out there.
When asked what went wrong during the 13-0 run, Coach Klop had this to say.
“I think we just came in off the bench and didn’t have a lot of energy. I just felt like we didn’t have a lot of sync during that period on both sides of the ball. They were staying aggressive and I just thought we didn’t match their energy during that period. In the second half our bench players came in and really gave us a lift. It’s going to be really a growing process with our team, learning how to play together, what everybody’s role is.”
Seattle held a 42-35 lead at the half. Both teams played pretty evenly throughout the third period as Seattle entered the final frame up 66-57. Unlike the first half, Seattle’s bench looked excellent in the 4th quarter. This is where Jordin Canada looked her best scoring six of her ten points and extending Seattle’s lead to 19 at one point. Mercedes Russell also made some nice plays scoring 4 points and getting a strong defensive block on the other end.
Seattle shot 44% (34-77) from the floor and only 30% (7-23). The team looked rusty at times and some of their jumpers were short or just flat out way off on a couple. But defensively the team looked pretty sharp. The Storm had 15 steals and forced the Liberty into 19 turnovers while limiting New York to just 35% (23-66) shooting and just 21% (6-28) from beyond the arc.
Seattle’s lone rookie, Ezi Magbegor, played 12 minutes and made a great first impression. She scored 7 points on 3-4 shooting and collected 3 rebounds in her Storm debut. She also made my favorite play of the entire game which I’ll talk about more in the next section.
Alysha Clark got a quick steal early in the game and made a nice pass to Natasha Howard for the easy layup as Howard scored the very first points of the 2020 WNBA season.
With the Storm struggling on offense in the 2nd quarter, Jewell Loyd knocked down a three-pointer. Then the Storm got a steal, where Bird tossed the ball back to Loyd who knocked down another jumper and was fouled for the AND1. The quick six point burst helped give Seattle the lead back for good.
Unfortunately, for the New York Liberty, All-Star Kia Nurse landed awkwardly in the first half of the game and appeared to injure her ankle. She did not return to the game.
Breanna Stewart switched onto Ionescu to perform a half-court trap and as Sabrina tried to blow by Stewart, Stewie wrapped her long arms around Ionescu poking the ball free. This allowed Seattle to get the steal and then immediately pass back up to Stewart who made the easy layup for Seattle.
Towards the end of the first half, Sue Bird missed a jumper, Ezi Magbegor collected the rebound and with no hesitation immediately went back up for the short range shot and scored her first two points of her WNBA career.
My favorite play of the game is one that might not even show up in the box score. Storm rookie Ezi Magbegor got switched onto number one overall pick Sabrina Ionescu out in space. You have to really understand the minute details of basketball and defense to truly appreciate what Magbegor did. The Liberty set a screen to switch Magbegor onto the shiftier, quicker Ionsecu. New York is using the pick and roll to create a mismatch with a big having to defend a guard out in the open floor. Magbegor uses her length to get her hands up in Ionescu’s face without over-committing with her feet. Ionescu attempts to drive to the lane past Magbegor but Ezi’s feet are too quick and she stays right up on Sabrina. Sabrina then backs up to create space, but Ezi keeps her arms out and extended and prevents Ionescu from creating enough space to comfortably get a shot off. Sabrina then performs a crossover going left to right to once again try to attack the right lane. Ezi cuts her off again and Sabrina goes to pick up the ball. As she does, Magbegor strips the ball out of her hands without committing a foul, dives for a loose ball and forces New York into a 24 second shot clock violation. That defensive play was a thing of beauty!
SAY HER NAME
Before, during, and after the game the Seattle Storm and New York Li
berty honored Breonna Taylor as part of the #SayHerName campaign. Breonna Taylor was brutally murdered by three Louisville police officers in her own apartment on March 13th, 2020. The officers responsible for her death have not been charged or arrested 134 days after the tragic indent. You can read about the case here.
All players wore “Breonna Taylor” on the back of their jerseys to bring more attention to her untimely death.
During the post-game press conference when media attempted to ask questions about the game, Sue Bird stated that all Storm players would only talk about Breonna Taylor and would not be answering any questions about basketball.
“Today and this season is about honoring Breonna Taylor’s life and it’s about bringing awareness to the fact that her murderers have not been brought to justice. We have no justice for her, they have not been arrested, and that’s really all I’m going to talk about. I believe it’s all that the rest of the team is going to talk about as well. You know that’s why we’re here. Yes, we play a game of basketball, but right now we have a platform to bring awareness and that’s what we’re focused on.”
Around the W
In other WNBA action, the Los Angeles Sparks (1-0) put a hurt on the Phoenix Mercury (0-1) behind a 30-8 third quarter to be the Mercury 99-76. Nneka Ogwumike and Seimone Augustus went a perfect 14-14 from the floor and scored a combined 35 points. Los Angeles had six players score in double figures with Ogwumike leading the way with 21. Candace Parker added 13 points and 7 rebounds in the victory. By comparison, Phoenix players really struggled outside of Diana Taurasi and Skyler Diggins-Smith who had 16 and 14 points each.
In the final game of the day, the Washington Mystics reminded everyone why they are the defending champions of the WNBA. Despite being without 2019 MVP Elena Delle Donne, Tina Charles, Natasha Cloud and Latoya Sanders, the Mystics absolutely throttled the Indiana Fever 101-76. The Mystics scored 62 points in the first half and had 92 points by the end of the third quarter. The Mystics had five players in double figures with Myisha Hines-Allen setting a career-high with 27 points and 10 rebounds. Aerial Powers and Emma Meesseman added 16 and 14 points a piece for the Mystics. Indiana was led by the 25 points of Kelsey Mitchell in the loss.
The Storm will face the Minnesota Lynx on Tuesday at 7:00 pm and then face off against the Washington Mystics on Thursday and the Los Angeles Sparks next Saturday. These games will be a tough test for Seattle and should be a great barometer for where the team is at early on this season.