Breanna Stewart changed the WNBA landscape over the winter when she decided to leave the Seattle Storm after seven years to sign with the New York Liberty in free agency. On Tuesday night, the former No. 1 overall pick, who won an MVP and two titles with the Storm, made her return to play in Seattle as a visitor for the first time.
The entire experience was, as Stewart put it, an "emotional roller coaster of a day." That wasn't surprising to hear given everything Stewart went through in Seattle, from the injury lows to the championship highs. Likewise, it wasn't surprising that Stewart was able to bottle those feelings and lead the Liberty to an 86-78 win, their third in a row.
With the now-retired Sue Bird in attendance, and her former teammates and coaches on the opposite side of the floor, Stewart admitted that she struggled at first to cope with it all.
"I was trying to play through it, but I was telling [Liberty head coach] Sandy [Brondello] in the first half, I was just floating," Stewart said. "I don't think I was really doing anything except just like -- not sure what I was doing."
But after halftime, she was able to refocus and take over the game. Stewart put up 17 points and eight rebounds on 6-of-10 from the field in the second half alone to help the Liberty take a comfortable double-digit lead they would never surrender. The sheer variety of Stewart's buckets was incredible. Each one in the second half showcased a different skill:
- Catch-and-shoot 3-pointer in transition
- Putback after crashing the offensive glass
- Post-up at the elbow into a face-up mid-range jumper
- Drive, crossover, and-one finish on a runner
- Baseline catch into a drive and step-back mid-range jumper
- Rim run in transition for an easy layup
Stewart showed, in those 20 minutes, why she's "the best player in the world," according to Storm head coach Noelle Quinn, who had to coach against her former star for the first time. All told, Stewart finished with 25 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks and two steals.
"I was like, 'Come on, let's get my shit together a little bit,'" Stewart said. "Just continuing to have that mentality of 'next play, next thing.' Whether it was scoring or rebounding and things like that, sometimes the little things help lead to a little bit bigger things.
"I just really appreciate this staff and everybody for not making it a bigger thing than it was, even though it was a really big thing."