Jewell Loyd knows she’s not being paid her new supermax salary to be average. That’s why she converted on a 4-point play and a difficult alley-oop layup en route to 17 points in her Seattle Storm’s season-opening win over the Minnesota Lynx Friday night at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle. That the 28-year-old provided those signature moments right off the bat signals her intent to live up to the No. 5 and No. 6 WNBA player rankings she received from Swish Appeal and ESPN, respectively.
“I just wanna play free,” Loyd said when asked if it felt good to pick up where she left off after an All-WNBA First Team season with great play in the opener. “I feel like I have so much more to give to this game. I’m just trying to improve every year, every year I’m back I want to be better. If I haven’t done that, I probably shouldn’t be a max player. You shouldn’t be paying me to be average. I want to make sure I’m doing a service to the fans, my family, the organization to come out here and show my gifts that God’s given me.”
Loyd’s performance helped the Storm pull away from the Lynx and Breanna Stewart added the finishing touches to the 97-74 blowout after managing just four points in the first half. Stewart ended up matching Loyd with a game-high 17 points and added eight rebounds, three assists and two steals. Meanwhile, the ageless Sue Bird began her farewell tour with a game-high nine assists.
Seattle’s scoring effort was about as balanced as it gets with Epiphanny Prince notching 13, Bird 11, Stephanie Talbot 11, Jantel Lavender nine, Ezi Magbegor eight, Gabby Williams five, Briann January four and Reshanda Gray two. Prince’s performance featured a 3-of-3 effort from downtown and was a welcome sight after the once-feared scorer posted 13 or more points just three times last year with her season high being 18.
And not only was everyone scoring, but they were all also making clutch plays at the right moments to help the Storm come back from a 10-point first-quarter deficit, battle in the second and go on an 18-2 run to open the third.
For example, Talbot made a block that turned into a fast break lay up that cut the team’s deficit to two right before the end of the first. She later made a three that gave the Storm a 27-24 lead. Magbegor added a steal turned fast break layup at a key moment, Lavender made a rare three at another and Williams made a monster block and a three of her own. Talbot and Lavender came off the bench.
“It’s a credit to our depth,” Stewart said. “Sue said it in the locker room: When our bench came in, they made us better. We not only rose our level of play, but they made huge plays. To be able to have that and then to continue to build confidence whether you’ve been on this team or you’re new to this team is really important. And I’m excited to see what we’re gonna do and how much fun we can have.”
The big three made their usual clutch plays as well. Loyd’s 4-point play made it 31-26, Bird made a three to tie it at 39 and Stewart’s first three, which came after three misses, was at the heart of the 18-2 run. It made the score 51-41 in favor of the Storm and really got the crowd going.
Sylvia Fowles did her damage for the Lynx with 16 points, but had just four rebounds to kick off her farewell tour. Aerial Powers had a huge first half of 14 points, but was held scoreless in the second. Jessica Shepard was solid with nine points, a game-high 12 boards and a team-high five helpers and looked like a seasoned 3-point shooter on what was just her third career make (29 games).