Basketball fans in green-and-yellow uniforms flocked to the Seattle Center again Saturday night for a glimpse of the storm’s season-opening game that was an adjustment to the WNBA team and a homecoming of sorts for everyone else.
Before the match, Lisa Brommel, one of the three owners of Storm, greeted several spectators on the field with handshakes and hugs.
“Congratulations, the place looks great,” one fan told Brommel in regards to Climate Pledge Arena, which hosted its first Storm game.
The $1.15 billion modern venue earned rave reviews from sponsors and players who appreciated the storm-focused signage and features throughout the building as well as upscale locker room amenities.
“Amazing,” said Storm coach Noel Quinn. “It’s huge. I’ve been to a couple of Kraken games. Just to see the storm banners. It’s a big venue, so I often walked from the locker room to the office and court.
“The fans were amazing. It feels great to be back in Seattle. It’s a building that I feel our organization and team deserve. I can’t wait to play more games here.”
WNBA All-Stars Jeel Lloyd and Brenna Stewart didn’t waste much time breaking new pits and collected 38 points to lead the storm to a comfortable 81-68 win over the Los Angeles Sparks.
Loyd went out shooting and took 15 of her 18 points in the first quarter while Storm finished the period with a decisive 14-2 trajectory to advance 31-15.
“Just trying to get in rhythm,” said Loyd who sunk 6 of 12 shots, including 4 of 8 from deep, and also scored six rebounds and three assists in 23 minutes. “We worked really hard in practice. We started to see where our shots were coming from and how we were playing. We were excited to play with someone else at the end.
“Just good rhythm. Good screens. We just play off each other. We did a good job playing with each other.”
Stewart had her best second-half moment when she capitalized on a combination of floats in the paint, three throws on her way to 20 points, four assists and three rebounds in 22 minutes.
It was an incredibly effective performance for Stewart, who was limited in minutes and played her first game since injuring her left Achilles tendon on September 7 and undergoing surgery last October.
“It looked sharp,” Quinn said. “Stewie has this hunger in her eyes every single day since she’s been at camp….It’s good to see her gushing. Nice to see her conditioning has been great after not playing in I don’t know how many days.”
“Sometimes we set that bar too high because she’s excellent at a lot of things. Sometimes you have to take it into account. Take greatness, but know there’s another level she can get to and she wants to get to….It was nice to see her knock. Shots and moves well.”
Loyd and Stewart provided more than enough firepower for Storm, which never lags behind, to overwhelm Sparks with a provisional lineup missing from 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 sustained a non-basketball related injury and is expected to miss training camp.
The storm was also without newcomers Brian Jan and Gabe Williams, who are playing abroad and are due to return next week.
Storm’s absence didn’t matter because Stewart and Lloyd were too much for Sparks.
Loyd’s early dominance and 14-2 lead at the end of the first quarter gave Seattle a 31-15 lead. Stewart took charge in the second half and Storm led 47-26 in the first half.
Stewart and Lloyd outperformed Sparks when they left for good late in the third quarter as Storm advanced 65-37.
“With the pre-season games, it’s a combination of trying to figure out what we’re in,” Quinn said. “How do some squads play with each other. … We got some really good things from everyone who played tonight. We got a lot of contributions. Our entire squad stuck to the defensive end. Some fluidity in a good aggressive manner. Overall, I thought the effort was There from top to bottom.”
The Storm LA held 30.8% in shooting, including 5 of 26 triples.
The Storm, who shot 44.8% from the ground and 35.5% behind the arc, led by as much as 28 points before pulling off his start in the third quarter and outperforming him 27-15 in the fourth.
“From the jump, we want to play at a really high level,” Quinn said. “We want to play at a fast pace and I think our conditioning was in a really good place considering we had a week in camp. I thought our execution was there.
“We still have to clean up our rebound. We gave up a lot of O boards. Our transitional defense was good and only gave up two fasbreak points against a team that likes to turn us on and off and run. … Defensively, we were solid.”
Olivia Nelson-Ododa led Los Angeles with 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Chenedy Carter scored 11 and Britney Sykes had 10.
The Storm plays its last preseason game Thursday in Phoenix before the May 6 regular season opener at Climate Pledge Arena against Minnesota.
“We had to work on a couple of problems, but that’s what pre-season provides,” Quinn said. “You get a test run of a lot of things. (That’s like) the old KeyArena. His home. We missed that. Everett was amazing. UW was amazing, but the Climate Pledge is definitely where you’re at.”