Considering the hype and hoopla surrounding the Storm’s first regular-season game at Climate Pledge Arena, Noelle Quinn expected a ragged start from Seattle.
“It’s the first game,” the Storm coach said before the game. “There’s going to be jitters, not sharp with handling the ball (and) all the things that come with being excited. We’re going to prepare for that.
“But they’re pros and at some point they’ll settle in and see the ball go through the net and we’ll be fine.”
Quinn called it perfectly.
The Storm shook off a wobbly start and a 10-point deficit in the first quarter before going bonkers and using a barrage of three-pointers during a magnificent third quarter to pull away from the Minnesota Lynx for a 97-74 victory in Friday’s opener in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 12,904 fans.
“The energy of Climate Pledge is going to be high because we’re back in Seattle and back in a new building,” Quinn said. “I really want us to utilize that energy as the sixth player and that motivation factor.
“But also just setting the tone for the year. Not worried about anything but us. Playing at a high level. Playing together through the ups and downs of the game and the season. Just remaining solid in our principles and who we are.”
Jewell Loyd, who carried Seattle early, and Breanna Stewart, who did most of her damage late, each scored a game-high 17 points while Sue Bird finished with 11 points and nine assists.
Seattle also received major contributions outside of its Big Three.
Epiphanny Prince added 13 points and Stephanie Talbot had 11. Meanwhile, Seattle’s newcomers Jantel Lavender, Gabby Williams and Briann January had impressive debuts.
“Those new pieces were steady for us,” Quinn said. “They changed the momentum for us. … It’s great to have it come together right now. Obviously, it’s the first game and we still have to build from that. When you think about what we need to add in the offseason, Bri coming in and the toughness and leadership that she’s already shown.
“It feels good that what you envision, you can see it physically come together on the floor.”
Minnesota countered with Sylvia Fowles, who had 12 of her team-high 16 points in the first half, and Aerial Powers’ 14.
The Lynx were without Napheesa Collier (expecting her first child), Kayla McBride (overseas), Damiris Dantas (right foot) and Angel McCoughtry (right knee) who are expected to be significant contributors this season.
In addition, Minnesota reshuffled its roster and waived guards Layshia Clarendon and Crystal Dangerfield, who comprised last year’s starting backcourt. Fowles, who plans to retire after the season, and Powers were the only returning Lynx starters on the floor Friday.
“We are a work in progress,” Minnesota coach Cheryl Reeve said.
Maybe so, but the Lynx gave the Storm all they could handle for 20 minutes.
The game turned early in the second half when Seattle used a 10-0 spurt to unlock a 41-41 halftime tie.
“It’s not our offense,” Quinn told the Storm during her halftime speech. “We had 41 points. It’s our defense, our activity and our defensive rebounding. When you have a team full of players who can get you a bucket at any time in the game, the challenge is how do you remain steady defensively.
“I attribute that to first-game jitters. It’s not going to be perfect, but at halftime it wasn’t anything but keep it simple and let’s tighten up our defense.”
Loyd began the run with a long jumper followed by Bird’s three-pointer, Ezi Magbegor’s steal for a layup and Stewart’s three that put the Storm up 51-41 with 7:46 left.
“We get hot quick,” Loyd said. “All we need is one shot to go in and then we start feeding off the energy of the crowd, each other and our coaches. Every since I’ve been here, we’ve been able to put on stretches where we just score quickly.”
Atter Minnesota ended a 3½-minute scoring drought with a basket, the Storm continued their offensive onslaught.
Williams drained a corner three-pointer before Bird and Loyd hooked up for the play of the night.
The sequence began with Bird firing a 55-foot pass between defenders to a streaking Loyd, who jumped to make the catch and converted a layup despite being fouled. Her ensuing free throw put Seattle ahead 57-43.
And the Storm continued scoring while the Lynx looked gassed.
When the decisive spurt was over, Seattle outscored Minnesota 34-14 in the third quarter to take a 75-55 lead into the final period. The Storm converted 11 of 16 shots in the period, including 5 of 6 from deep.
“We pride ourselves on being in shape, wearing people down in the fourth quarter and push the pace as much as we can,” Loyd said. “That’s always been our MO. If the other team is tired, we still have a little bit more in the tank.
“We were able to do that because the people coming off the bench are dogs, too. We don’t look at them as less than our starters. They’re a part of who we are. We were able to push the pace knowing that we have reinforcements right behind us.”
Seattle’s bench outscored Minnesota 39-26 and every Storm player scored.
Most of the Storm starters watched the fourth quarter from the bench and celebrated the blowout win with a near capacity crowd that included soccer star Megan Rapinoe, Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, Death Cab for Cutie singer Ben Gibbard, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert, Governor Jay Inslee, Mayor Bruce Harrell and former Seahawks Doug Baldwin and Cliff Avril.
“We’re finally back in a place we can call home,” Loyd said. “We’re finally back in a place that we deserve. We’re one of the best teams in Seattle with the history that we’ve been able to create.
“To see all the fans come in there early before we’re even on the floor. Just the hype around the building, it’s amazing and we know that we’re a part of this journey and legacy of this new arena. It was humbling but made me hungry to come out there and play well.”