Breanna Stewart was back from health and safety protocol Wednesday night and the Seattle Storm snapped the three-game losing streak they were on — the latter two of those losses came without her.
Seattle (2-3) took down the defending champion Chicago Sky (2-2) 74-71 at Climate Pledge Arena. It was up 15 with 8:17 to go, but needed some great Gabby Williams defense on Allie Quigley at the buzzer to hold on.
This after Williams made an AMAZING (and inconsequential because Candace Parker followed it with a layup) block with 37 seconds remaining.
Twenty two-year-old Ezi Magbegor was the star of the contest with a game-high 21 points to go along with six rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Magbegor upped her season scoring average to a very good 11.2 with the performance, but she had only scored quite that much once before (Aug. 15, 2021, also against the Sky).
Stewart was happy to see Magbegor’s career trending in the right direction, saying, “When Ezi’s aggressive, everybody else plays off of her.
“I think that her taking on a bigger role and realizing that and embracing it is gonna to help her continue to grow in her career. Whatever Ezi wants to do she can do on the court and I’m gonna read off of her and Sue (Bird)’s gonna read off of her and Jewell (Loyd)’s gonna read off of her, because we know the type of player that she is and that she’s gonna continue to be. So when Ezi plays like she played tonight, it’s gonna only help our team.”
“It’s definitely been a next woman up mentality, obviously with (Mer)cedes (Russell) out and then with Stewie and (E)piph(anny) out the last couple of games,” Magbegor said. “You kind of just need to step up. I think everyone has that mindset.
“When my teammates and the coaches instill that confidence in me, I think I just have to translate that into the game and know that they back me 100 percent.”
Storm head coach Noelle Quinn welcomed the opportunity to praise Magbegor at the postgame press conference, saying, “She is so deserving of the moments that she can show the world what we see every day of her.
“She works extremely hard, she’s very humble, she’s an amazing teammate, she’s an amazing human being. And aside from that, she wants to be a great basketball player. And it’s low maintenance. It’s not anything but hard work and dedication to her craft. I’m proud of moments like this, because these are the things that we tell her every day that she is capable of.
“And it’s not just the points. It is the energy. It is the coming over to block shots. It’s plugging holes. It is the things that are are not necessarily equated on the stat sheet that matter.
“And the amazing part about it is we are five games in and she will continue to grow and learn and she’s not even scratched the surface of where we think she can be.”
In addition to Magbegor, another topic at the postgame press conference was of course how close Chicago came to winning.
“If you look at the box score in the second half, they beat us in both quarters,” Stewart said. “And that’s just a point of emphasis, obviously. We had a lot of different factors this past couple weeks. ... The biggest thing is getting the win and now having time to kind of collect our thoughts and get in the gym together tomorrow and get ready for LA.
“The game was tough. In the first half we were able to really get out in transition and score easily that way. And in the second half got a little bit more in the half court, more sloppy. And through the adversity we were able to get the win. ... We lost one at home the last game, but, especially during this home stand, we want to win as many as we can because playing in this unbelievable arena in front of all of our fans — we have to take advantage of that because there’s no other place like it.”
Looking back at the past two games, the Storm aren't happy with 69 points per game, but at least they allowed just 70 per game.
“As we find chemistry in our offense and find rhythm in our offense, and the pieces that we add, as they find their comfort in our offense, what will sustain us is our defense,” Quinn said. “And one thing that we know: we have pieces who can play defense.”
“We know that our defense is gonna be obviously extremely important now, but (especially) as we get into the later part of the season,” Stewart said. “And building that trust and building that confidence that someone’s always got our back. And I think you guys can see that it’s developing from the first game until now. ... Our defense is great and now we got to get our offense going. We gotta to make some shots and get the looks that we want.”
Stewart was second on the Storm in scoring with 13 points to go along with her five boards, two helpers and four steals.
“COVID is real and COVID is still a thing,” Stewart said. “And I think that just making sure that we’re all taking the precautions to keep yourself safe and one another safe. But I’m very happy to be back and to be cleared to play.”
“Tried to play her minutes a little bit differently so that it wasn't like an eight-minute spurt, maybe like a four- or five-minute spurt,” Quinn said of her superstar’s return. “I don’t think the wind was a concern, more so than just rhythm and timing and things of those nature — things that Stewie will pick up as soon as she has an entire practice with us. It was good to see that her stamina stayed, withstood the way in which we kind of situated her minutes. And she was still very effective.
“Stewie being on the floor just changes things. She doesn’t need to score 30 and have 10 rebounds to be productive. Just her stepping on the floor helps us tremendously.”
Seattle has only Thursday to rest before hosting the Sparks Friday night. Still, Quinn said the fact that all three of her stars played under 30 minutes was just a coincidence.
“Obviously I love looking at the stats and seeing Stewie playing 29 and Jewell at 26 and Sue had 21 and getting a win,” she said. “Today wasn’t load management or any of that, other than obviously paying attention to Piph and Stewie and their wind. It was just I think we got great effort from others tonight. And when we have that, it allows the minutes to be distributed in a way that will sustain us throughout the season. I don’t want to sacrifice that for wins, we’re trying to win games. But I think we’re having some valuable minutes from a lot of players and it’s really helping.”