Basketball fans clad in green and yellow flocked to Seattle Center once again Saturday night to get a glimpse of the Storm in a preseason opener that served as a tuneup for the WNBA team and a homecoming of sorts for everyone else.
Before the game, Lisa Brummel, one of three Storm owners, greeted several courtside spectators with handshakes and hugs.
“Congratulations, the place looks amazing,” a fan said to Brummel in regards to Climate Pledge Arena, which hosted its first Storm game.
The $1.15 billion state-of-the-art venue garnered rave reviews from patrons and players who appreciated the Storm-centric signage and features throughout the building as well as the high-end locker room amenities.
“Amazing,” Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. “It’s huge. I’ve been to a couple of Kraken games. Just to see the Storm sign. It’s a big place, so I got a lot of steps in from the locker room to the office and the court.
“The fans were great. It feels great to be back in Seattle. It’s a building that I feel like our organization and our team deserves. I can’t wait to play some more games in here.”
WNBA All-Stars Jewell Loyd and Breanna Stewart wasted little time breaking in their new digs and combined for 38 points to lead the Storm to a comfortable 81-68 victory against the Los Angeles Sparks.
Loyd came out firing and canned 15 of her 18 points in the first quarter while the Storm finished the period with a decisive 14-2 run to go ahead 31-15.
“Just trying to get a rhythm,” said Loyd who sank 6 of 12 shots, including 4 of 8 from deep, and also had six rebounds and three assists in 23 minutes. “We’ve been working really hard in practice. We’re starting to see where our shots are coming from and how to play. We were excited to finally play someone else.
“Just good rhythm. Good screens. We’re just playing off of each other. We did a good job of playing off of one another.”
Stewart had her best moments in the second period while draining an array of floaters in the paint and three-pointers en route to a game-high 20 points, four assists and three rebounds in 22 minutes.
It was an incredibly efficient performance for Stewart, who was on a minutes restriction and playing her first game since injuring her left Achilles tendon Sept. 7 and undergoing surgery last October.
“She looked sharp,” Quinn said. “Stewie has this hunger in her eyes every day since she’s been in camp. … It’s good to see her in a flow. Good to see her conditioning was great after not having played in I don’t know how many days.
“Sometimes we set this bar so high because she’s so excellent in a lot of things. Sometimes you do have to take it in. Take in the greatness, but know that there’s another level she can get to and wants to get to. … It was good to see her knocking in shots and moving well.”
Loyd and Stewart provided more than enough firepower for the Storm, who never trailed, to overwhelm the Sparks with a makeshift lineup missing starters Sue Bird and Mercedes Russell.
Quinn chose to rest Bird, who sat at the far end of the bench in street clothes, while Russell suffered a non-basketball injury and is expected to miss training camp.
The Storm were also without newcomers Briann January and Gabby Williams who are playing overseas and should return next week.
The Storm’s absences hardly mattered because Stewart and Loyd were too much for the Sparks.
Loyd’s early dominance and a 14-2 run at the end of the first quarter gave Seattle a 31-15 lead. Stewart took over in the second period and the Storm went ahead 47-26 at halftime.
Stewart and Loyd outscored the Sparks when they left for good late in the third quarter with the Storm up 65-37.
“With preseason games it’s a mix of trying to see where we are,” Quinn said. “How certain lineups play with one another. … We got some really good things from everyone who played tonight. We got a lot of contributions. Our entire team locked in on the defensive end. Some good fluidity offensively. Overall, I thought the effort was there from top to bottom.”
The Storm held Los Angeles to 30.8% percent shooting, including 5 of 26 on three-pointers.
The Storm, who shot 44.8% from the floor and 35.5% behind the arc, led by as many as 28 points before pulling their starters in the third quarter and being outscored 27-15 in the fourth.
“From jump, we want to play at a really high level,” Quinn said. “We want to play with pace and I thought our conditioning was at a really good spot considering we’re a week into camp. I thought our execution was there.
“We still have to clean up our rebounding. We gave up a lot of O boards. Our transition defense was good and only gave up two fasbreak points against a team that likes to turn us over and get out and run. … Defensively, we were solid.”
Olivia Nelson-Ododa led LA with 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Chennedy Carter had 11 points and Brittney Sykes 10.
The Storm play their final preseason game Thursday at Phoenix before their May 6 regular-season opener at Climate Pledge Arena vs. Minnesota.
“We had to work a couple of kinks out, but that’s what preseason provides,” Quinn said. “You get a test run for a lot of things. (This felt like) old KeyArena. It’s home. We missed it. Everett was amazing. UW was amazing, but Climate Pledge is where it’s at for sure.”