The first day of the 2020 WNBA season is in the books. Early on Saturday afternoon, the Seattle Storm got the action underway by cruising to an 87-81 victory over the New York Liberty inside the IMG Academy bubble. That's where every game will be played this season, as the league has set up shop down in Bradenton, Florida.
No. 1 overall pick Sabrina Ionescu made her WNBA debut for the Liberty, finishing with 12 points, six rebounds and four assists in the loss. Breanna Stewart, meanwhile, returned from a torn Achilles to go for 18 points, eight rebounds and four steals.
In the second game of the day, Seimone Augustus and Nneka Ogwumike had a perfect day, combining for 35 points on 14-of-14 shooting from the field, to lead the Los Angeles Sparks to an easy win over the Phoenix Mercury, 99-76. Skylar Diggins-Smith went for 14 points and six assists in her debut with the Mercury.
The defending champion Washington Mystics made easy work of the Indiana Fever in the third and final game of the day, getting out to a double-digit lead after the first quarter, and running away for an 101-76 win. Myisha Hines-Allen, inserted into the starting lineup because of the Mystics' many absences, went for a career-high 27 points and 10 rebounds. Kelsey Mitchell led the Fever with 25 points in defeat.
While basketball was the reason everyone was there, the players made sure to take time before, during and after each game to honor Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was killed in her home by Louisville, Kentucky police earlier this year.
Here are some key takeaways from opening day:
Honoring Breonna Taylor
Earlier this month, the WNBA announced that the 2020 season would be dedicated to social justice. The players are wearing special jerseys with Breonna Taylor's name on the back, and warm-up shirts that say "Black Lives Matter and "Say Her Name." In addition, a social justice council was formed to come up with ideas to use their platform to inspire change.
On Saturday afternoon, prior to the first game of the season, we saw both the Liberty and Storm engage in their first action. During the national anthem, they simply walked off the court. Then, they held 26 moments of silence in honor of Taylor's age when she was killed by Louisville police. The Mercury, Sparks, Fever and Mystics all did the same in the later games.
During an interview after the first quarter, Breanna Stewart continued to bring the focus back to Taylor. "Our momentum is bigger than getting on the court," Stewart said. "We want to continue to fight for justice for Breonna Taylor and her family and putting pressure on the Kentucky attorney general to make that happen"
After the game, Storm players refused to discuss anything besides Breonna Taylor and the other victims of police and racial violence. Breanna Stewart also confirmed that the team will be wearing Taylor's name on their jerseys for the entire season.
The Hines-Allen show
Myisha Hines-Allen scored 63 points all of last season. On Saturday, in the Mystics' win against the Fever, she scored 27. The third-year forward was inserted into the starting lineup for the opener because of all the players sitting out of the Mystics, and took advantage of her opportunity.
She got off to a terrific start, pouring in 14 points in the first quarter, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer. It wasn't just one strong quarter, however, as Hines-Allen kept up her strong play all day long, finishing with 27 points and 10 rebounds on 11 of 17 from the field.
Even more impressive was the way Hines-Allen scored in so many different ways. She hit shots from outside, beat defenders off the dribble to get to the rim and even ran the break in transition. Expecting this kind of performance every night is unrealistic, but if MHA is ready to be a solid starter, that's a big boost for the Mystics.
"Every game is different," Hines-Allen said. "You never know. I'm just gonna take what the defense gives me. My teammates instilled so much confidence in me this first game. Before the game, saying, 'My you got it. Just takes what the defense gives you.' My coaches were giving me a lot of confidence before the game too. So I'm just gonna play hard, and like I said before, take what the defense gives me.
Mystics know who they are
The Mystics' big win over the Fever was a good reminder of how important it is to have consistency and know who you are as a team. Elena Delle Donne, LaToya Sanders, Natasha Cloud and Tina Charles are all sitting out, and Kristi Toliver left for the Sparks in free agency. All told, that's four starters gone from last season's title team, and their key offseason acquisition. And yet, it didn't seem to matter.
Washington just bullied Indiana all game long, getting whatever they wanted on the offensive end, while holding the Fever to 28-of-71 from the field. There are still talented players on this Mystics team, but the biggest reason for their success is they were comfortable in their system, and knew exactly how they wanted to play. Indiana, meanwhile, looked lost at times as they struggled to adjust under new head coach Marianne Stanley.
A perfect day for Nneka and Seimone
Seimone Augustus made a shocking decision in free agency to leave the Lynx after 14 seasons and join the Sparks. Her debut on Saturday couldn't have gone any better. Starting off with a 3-pointer from the wing, Augustus went a perfect 6 of 6 from the field for 14 points to help the Sparks get the win. It's worth noting that she didn't score in double figures all of last season, and if the Sparks have a rejuvenated Augustus -- instead of the one that staggered through 2019 -- that would be a huge development.
"It's been good," Augustus said of her time with the Sparks so far. "It was no pressure, no stress, just come out and play ball, pick your spots to be successful, and give what I can give to the team. Whether it's on the court scoring the ball, or off the court being in the young players' ears, giving whatever knowledge I can give."
Somehow, that wasn't even the best performance for Los Angeles this afternoon. Nneka Ogwumike didn't miss a shot either, going 8-of-8 from the field to finish with 21 points and seven rebounds. Ogwumike's performance set a new Sparks record for the most shots without a miss in a single game.
The coronavirus pandemic brought sports across the globe to a halt, and the long layoff has been impacting play on Opening Day in one obvious area so far: turnovers. It's been months since anyone saw the floor for a meaningful game, and the condensed schedule also meant a shorter training camp. All four teams from the completed games have had stretches of sloppiness and disjointed play, and they've all committed at least 11 turnovers.
Phoenix, however, has had the biggest problem so far. It turned the ball over a whopping 27 times, leading directly to 38 points for the Sparks. It's almost impossible to win when you give the other team that many free points, and the Mercury did not win on Saturday. With a bunch of offseason acquisitions, including two new point guards in Skylar Diggins-Smith and Bria Hartley, it's going to take some time for the Mercury to get into sync. Along the way, however, they're going to have to take care of the ball a bit better than they did against the Sparks.
It took a few months longer than expected, but No. 1 overall pick Sabrina Ionescu finally made her WNBA debut on Saturday. She finished with 12 points, six rebounds and four assists, and showed her versatility and ability to impact every area of the game.
In the second half, she showed some really impressive flashes, first with a nasty move to get past reigning Defensive Player of the Year Natasha Howard.
Then, later on, she threaded the needle with a brilliant pass in transition.
At the same time, there were plenty of moments that reminded us she's still a rookie, and this was her first game. The Storm were intent on pressuring her as much as possible, and she was forced into four turnovers. "It was part of our game plan to try and disrupt her," Storm coach Gary Kloppenburg said. "We know how good she is if you allow her to do what she wants coming off screen and rolls. So yeah, we really wanted to target her, get it out of her hands and try to force some turnovers."
In addition Ionescu really struggled shooting the ball, going 4 of 17 overall, and 0 of 8 from 3-point land.
Breanna Stewart missed all of last season with a torn Achilles, but you wouldn't have known it from watching her return against the Liberty. Aside from struggling a bit with turnovers, she looked every bit her old self.
Playing 28 minutes, she went for 18 points, eight rebounds, two assists and four steals. She was finishing inside through contact and knocked down a couple looks from 3, while also making an impact on the defensive end. "She was aggressive at both ends of the floor, she changed some shots, and I thought she really looked good for not having played for really quite a while," Kloppenburg said. "So yeah, excellent job out there by her. I was really happy for her to get back in the flow of the game."
Obviously single game plus-minus isn't the be-all, end-all, but it was fitting that in her return, the Storm were plus-17 with Stewart on the court in a 17-point win.