Update: Storm forward Breanna Stewart was ruled out of Sunday’s second-round playoff game against the Phoenix Mercury, the team announced on Saturday.
At the end of Friday’s practice, Breanna Stewart walked gingerly on the Royal Brougham Pavilion court at Seattle Pacific University, stood on one foot near the top of the key and fired long-distance shots at the rim.
After banking in a 30-footer, she turned and said: “Pay up” to teammates who laughed and exchanged high-fives with the smiling Storm star.
It was a fun-filled moment, which belied the seriousness of Stewart’s left-foot injury and the somber pall that hung over the defending WNBA champions just two days before its playoff game.
After more than two weeks of rehabilitation, the Storm had hoped Stewart would return. However, barring a last-minute recovery, the 2020 Finals MVP will miss Sunday’s noon second-round, single-elimination matchup between No. 4 seed Seattle and the fifth-seeded Phoenix Mercury at Angel of the Winds Arena.
“I don’t think it was a setback more so than just kind of being strategic and taking our time,” coach Noelle Quinn said. “That’s what’s been communicated to me.
“So, we’re going to continue with her rehab and re-evaluate again tomorrow. We’re in a day-to-day process right now.”
Stewart has not played or practiced since injuring her left foot in the third quarter of 105-71 win over the Washington Mystics on Sept. 7.
Quinn has been vague on specific details regarding the injury and indicated Stewart is under supervision from “her team” of trainers and physicians who consult with the Storm’s medical staff.
“I’m very comfortable with her team and the work that she’s doing,” Quinn said. “I’m trusting them to evaluate her and to make that decision on when she’s ready to go.”
When asked if Stewart could play Sunday, Quinn said: “There is a chance. We’ll see tomorrow how she’s feeling and looking.”
Quinn still believes Stewart would need at least one practice before putting her in a game.
“I just think you have to get some time on the court in a team setting to get bumped around and make sure everything is good,” Quinn said. “When you’ve been out as long as she has, I don’t know if you can just flip a switch and jump back in it.”
Since its 94-85 win over Phoenix in its regular-season finale Sept. 17, the Storm has been preparing as if Stewart, who missed the final two regular-season games, will not be available Sunday.
Last week, Quinn said she hoped Stewart would be able to return “sometime during the playoffs” and days ago Sue Bird talked about the adjustments Seattle needs to make without its MVP-caliber star.
“It’s a team effort and we’ve shown that the last couple of games before the playoffs,” backup point guard Jordin Canada said. “Everybody contributes … everyone steps up and that’s what you want going into the playoffs. Even though we’re going to miss Stewie, everybody knows it’s a next-man-up mentality and everybody has to do a little bit more.”
In 2019, the Storm toppled Minnesota 84-74 in a first-round, single-elimination playoff game without Stewart, who sat out that year while recovering from a torn Achilles.
“There’s still a lot of the players on this team who have been in this position where it’s win or go home,” said Canada, who finished with a career-high 26 points, four assists and two steals in the 2019 playoff win against the Lynx in arguably the biggest game of her WNBA career. “We understand that even if we don’t have Stewie that we can still flow and still play. It’s about movement and playing with each other and for each other. We have a solid corps that’s been together a few years and the beauty of this team is everybody is interchangeable.”
Stewart’s absence elevates Ezi Magbegor to the starting lineup. During last week’s win over Phoenix, the second-year center finished with 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block in 34 minutes.
“The next-woman-up mentality can’t be playing outside of yourself,” Quinn said. “Next woman up is getting a couple of more rebounds. Do what you normally do, but do it with a different level of urgency.
“We’ll rely heavily on Jewell (Loyd) and Sue. Piph (Epiphanny Prince) can get a bucket. We’ll need to get Jordin going downhill and getting into the lane. So it may look a little different, but the urgency of the matter is huge.”
Canada added: “Until we get beat, we are the defending champions and we’ve got to play like that in the playoffs and on Sunday.”
— All-Star guard Loyd missed Friday’s practice due to personal reasons, Quinn said.
— It’s uncertain if Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi will play Sunday. She missed Thursday’s 83-82 win over No. 8 New York in the first round of the WNBA playoffs because of an ankle injury that has forced her to miss the past four games.