Breanna Stewart missed the end of last season due to an Achilles tendon injury that required surgery and has had a stunted start to this campaign due to a stint in the league's health and safety protocols. But while she hasn't had a chance to truly find a rhythm this season, she's still one of the best players in the world.
Friday night's matchup with the New York Liberty was yet another reminder. Stewart finished with a season-high 31 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and three steals as she led the Storm to a 79-71 overtime win. Seattle is now on a three-game winning streak and has improved to 4-3 on the season overall.
While Stewart played well the entire night, she asserted her dominance in the extra frame. On the Storm's first possession, she buried a tough catch-and-shoot 3-pointer on the move to put them in front for good. A few minutes later she drove inside and found Briann January for a 3 to give the Storm some breathing space. In all, Stewart outscored the Liberty by herself in overtime (7-4) and either scored or assisted on 10 of the Storm's 12 points.
Following her big night, Stewart is now averaging 22 points per game, which makes her the top scorer in the league. No one else is even averaging 20 a night. While it's still super early in the season, that would be a career-best if she can keep it up. And given the Storm's current situation, they're going to need her to do just that.
Prior to Friday's game, the Storm announced that three more players have entered the health and safety protocols: Sue Bird, Steph Talbot, and Ezi Magbegor. Including Stewart and Epiphanny Prince who were caught up with COVID-19 a few weeks ago, the Storm have now had five players in the protocols this season. The rest of the league has had three combined.
"I know our players are doing the best that they can in the situation that we're at," Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. "The bug is going around in that capacity. You understand as pros and adults you give them advice and mask up when we can. Just be mindful and being vigilant in everything.
"Our team is super professional," Quinn continued. "I'm not worried about them in that way. It's just the time that we're in and just having not a great look at the moment."
With Mercedes Russell also still sidelined due to a non-basketball injury, the Storm were left with only eight healthy players on Friday, and needed to sign Kiana Williams to an emergency hardship contract just to have that many. Depending on what happens with the players in the protocols, they may remain shorthanded for Sunday's rematch with the Liberty, and possibly beyond.
The only bit of good news for the Storm these days is that Stewart is healthy, and with her in the lineup they're 4-1 this season. As a result, they're hanging around in sixth place, and are only a few games behind the league-leading Las Vegas Aces. This has not been an ideal start for the Storm, but thanks to Stewart they're in position to go on a run once they get their full team back together.