Breanna Stewart played six seasons with the Seattle Storm, winning two WNBA championships and an MVP as a four-time All-Star.
On Tuesday, she made her return to Seattle for the first time in a visiting uniform after signing as a free agent in February with the New York Liberty. She led the the Liberty to an 86-78 win after receiving a warm pregame welcome from opposing fans.
Stewart greeted by cheers
Stewart signed autographs for fans prior to the game, including on her former Storm jersey. When her name was announced pregame, fans largely greeted her with cheers and applause, with many in attendance standing from their seats.
It was a stark contrast from another high-profile return to Seattle that saw Seahawks fans roundly boo Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson in his first game back last season after joining the Denver Broncos.
Stewart starts slow, finishes strong
The focus remained on Stewart after tipoff. She tallied 8 points on just four first-half shots and she repeatedly faced double- and sometimes triple-teams from a Storm defense intent on slowing her down. With the hyper focus on Stewart, New York’s offense thrived elsewhere as it tallied 14 assists on 15 first-half made field goals en route to a 46-39 lead.
Stewart wouldn’t remain contained as she found her spots and asserted her offense after halftime. She broke through in the third quarter with 10 points and 6 rebounds. A 3-point play on a contested layup with the shot clock winding down extended New York’s lead to 66-53.
Seattle never challenged New York’s lead from there as the Liberty went on to an 8-point victory.
Stewart finished the game with a team-high 25 points and 11 rebounds. She also tallied 2 blocks and two steals. Ionesco, meanwhile, posted a season-high 6 3-pointers on 10 attempts en route to 20 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. Jewell Loyd led the Storm with 26 points, while Ezi Magbegor posted 12 points, 14 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks.
Landscape-shifting move to New York
Stewart joined the Storm in 2016 as the No. 1 overall pick out of UConn. She delivered on the investment as a two-time Finals MVP while leading the Storm to championships in 2018 and 2020. This offseason, she opted for change and joined fellow All-Stars Jonquel Jones and Courtney Vandersloot alongside incumbent rising star Ionescu to form a super team in New York. It was an unprecedented basketball opportunity for Stewart, but one that forced her to leave good things behind in Seattle.
Prior to Tuesday’s game, Stewart spoke with ESPN about the feelings elicited from an offseason trip to Seattle after her decision to join New York.
“It’s a lot of bittersweet feelings,” Stewart said. “That moment, I was like, did I make the right decision? Because coming back here, I’m like these are all my spots, and these are my friends and this is everything that I’m familiar with. But, you know, change is good.”
The decision is paying early dividends.
A Liberty team that finished 16-20 last season left Tuesday’s win at 3-1. Stewart’s thrived on the star-laden team with averages of 26 points, 10 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game entering Tuesday, all of which would constitute career highs if extended for the entire season.
Expectations are high in New York this season, where the Liberty are expected to contend for their first WNBA championship.