They could show it on their fingers if they wanted to.
Before Saturday’s season debut, the Storm players enjoyed a ring ceremony celebrating their 2020 WNBA title.
They could show it in the rafters, too.
Accompanying that ceremony was the raising of a banner commemorating last season’s feat.
But in their game against the Las Vegas Aces, the stars of the Storm chose the most convincing platform to demonstrate that they’re the reigning champions of the world — the basketball court.
This past offseason wasn’t particularly kind to the Storm, as salary-cap issues forced them to lose former All-Star Natasha Howard and defensive standout Alysha Clark. Meanwhile, the Aces — last year’s WNBA runners-up — saw the return of former WNBA scoring champ Liz Cambage, who sat out last season for health reasons/COVID concerns.
But after a 97-83 thumping of Las Vegas, the core of the Storm shouted to the world that, while its squad may not look the same, its designation as the team to beat remains intact.
“We still have Stewie and Jewell,” said Storm point guard Sue Bird, referring to fellow All-Stars Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd. “We lost a lot in free agency, and I love every single one of those players, but people forgot we had Stewie and Jewell. I think today was an example of that. We’ve got the hard part. We’ve got the franchise players.”
Reigning Finals MVP and 2018 WNBA MVP Stewart had 28 points and 13 rebounds. Loyd added 22 points and six assists. And though Bird is too humble to call herself one of the franchise players (she is), the 11-time All-Star tallied 11 points and eight assists.
Interestingly enough, that 14-point margin at the final buzzer undersold how dominant the Storm was Saturday. Despite trailing by nine in the first quarter, Seattle eventually went on a 30-11 run and led by as many as 19 points. The Storm knocked down 12 of its 27 three-point attempts, with Bird going three for six. It limited the Aces to 12 attempts from deep, with just three going in.
Reigning league MVP A’ja Wilson did score 24 points for Vegas, and Cambage … well, there might be a slight asterisk accompanying this Storm win. Or maybe not so slight.
The 6-foot-8 Cambage is still trying to get in game shape, and logged just 19 minutes. And in those 19 minutes, she scored 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting and snared five rebounds.
Remember, the Aces made it to the Finals last year sans Cambage, who may be the most dominant player in the game. When her lungs catch up to her skill level, Vegas may be the toughest out in the league.
This day, though, belonged to the Storm, which also got 12 points from Candice Dupree. It belonged to Seattle, which saw 14 minutes from the 6-foot-4 Ezi Magbegor, who slowed down Cambage and finished with a plus-minus of +24, nine points higher than anyone in the game. It belonged to the reigning champs, who outrebounded the Aces 44-33.
Does this mean anything beyond a nice “W” to start the season? Probably not. But if one regular-season game can be a “statement,” this one was issued in all caps and bold font.
“It was a good team win in a lot of ways as we start the season, we’re glad to get a look at ourselves,” Storm coach Dan Hughes said. “There’s things we’re going to have to do better, but the bottom line was that we asked the team to rebound and play without fouling and they really worked hard at that.”
There may not have been much suspense in the Storm’s win, but there was a scare. About three minutes into the fourth quarter, Bird seemingly banged her knee before falling to the floor and writhing in pain. Bird has had problems with that joint over the past couple years, and was sidelined for most of 2019 as a result. But she returned to the game, prompting a sigh of relief from her coach, teammates and fans.
She’s not going down that easily, and despite some offseason departures, the Storm isn’t, either.