SEATTLE — For all the changes in the arena the Seattle Storm returned to Friday night, there were some constants from the last time the team played inside its home building.
Namely, it was Jewell Loyd, Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird leading the Storm to a convincing victory just like the past.
Loyd scored 17 points, Bird added 11 points and nine assists in what could be her final season and the Seattle Storm returned to their home building with an emphatic 97-74 victory over the Minnesota Lynx to open the WNBA season.
"No remnants of KeyArena except for watching Sue Bird hit pull-up 3s, and Stewie and Jewell doing their thing," Seattle coach Noelle Quinn said.
The 41-year-old Bird started her 19th season playing for Seattle with her 550th game. Bird was greeted with raucous applause during pregame introductions and equally loud roars for each of her made baskets by the announced crowd of 12,904 in Seattle's debut in the rebuild Climate Pledge Arena. She made a three 3-pointers and spent most of the fourth quarter as a spectator after Seattle outscored Minnesota 34-14 in the third quarter.
Bird's 3-pointer in the opening moments of the second half helped spark an 18-2 Seattle run after the teams were tied at 41 at halftime. Stewart scored 13 of her 17 points in the second half in her first game after missing the end of last season with a foot injury.
Epiphanny Prince added 13 and Stephanie Talbot had 11 for Seattle.
"I mean, look at our roster. We have you have a ton of depth and we showed that tonight," Stewart said.
Sylvia Fowles led Minnesota with 16 points and Aerial Powers added 14.
Seattle returned to its home in the heart of the city after three years of being nomads. Seattle spent the 2019 and 2021 seasons playing in venues around the Puget Sound region while Climate Pledge Arena was under construction. The 2020 season was played in the WNBA bubble in Florida.
The Storm held a preseason game in the building two weeks ago, but the opener was the first meaningful WNBA game for Seattle in its home arena since Game 2 of the 2018 Finals. Seattle posted a 228-117 record regular season and postseason combined in the building from the team's inception through its 2018 championship.
"We're finally back in a place that we can call home," Loyd said. "We're finally back in a place that we deserve. ... To see all the fans come in there early and they were there before we were on the court and the hype around the building, it's amazing and we're part of this journey, this legacy of this new arena."
Minnesota started the season without two-time All-Star Napheesa Collier, who is pregnant and expecting later this month. The Lynx were also without Kayla McBride, who is still playing overseas, and forward Angel McCoughtry due to right knee soreness. It's been a chaotic week for Minnesota that included the signings of Nikolina Milić and Yvonne Turner to contracts on hardship exemptions in order to fill out the roster.
Fowles has already announced this will be her last season and while all signs point to this being the final season for Bird, she hasn't made that definitive. The pair of longtime stars had an enthusiastic hug before tipoff then went out and showed that both are still playing at an elite level.
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