Layshia Clarendon and Sabrina Ionescu each earned double-figures in the New York Liberty’s 2020 debut against the mighty Seattle Storm.
— New York Liberty (@nyliberty) July 25, 2020
If moral victories counted in the WNBA standings, the New York Liberty would lead with a 1-0 mark. Alas, for New York, only points on the scoreboard count toward the official wins and losses.
A dominant fourth quarter allowed the Seattle Storm to pull away from Liberty in the final stages, using a 21-14 tally over the last 10 minutes to win the WNBA’s 2020 opener by an 87-71 final. Seattle (1-0) welcomed back former MVPs Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird back to the fold after the pair missed all of last season due to injuries.
New York representatives were proud of the effort on the hardwood of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, which will host the entirety of the 2020 season in a bubble setting.
“I think we saw (the feeling) of fearless very often,” forward Amanda Zahui B said in a postgame Zoom conference. “They took the lead and we came back. Now we just got to keep on being consistent with it and not get on our heels. It’s a growing process. I think we did it well as a first game. It’s not perfect, but we were going against Seattle and we’re pretty much new to the league as a whole. I think we did pretty well.”
The Liberty (0-1) debuted six rookies and dressed only two players from their 2019 season finale overall. The league’s schedule generator perhaps did them no favors by setting them up against the 2018 champions, who nonetheless earned a playoff berth last season in the absence of Bird and Stewart. Further complications arose when the Liberty lost All-Star guard Kia Nurse to an injury in the second quarter, an ailment later described as an ankle sprain. Seattle seemed ready to pull away to an expected blowout when they took a 24-12 lead late in the first quarter.
But a strong effort led by a rare veteran kept the Liberty alive. A dominant sequence from Layshia Clarendon in the opening frame’s final minute, in which she dumped off an interior assist to Kiah Stokes before going to the line to trim the lead to single digits. Further efforts from Clarendon even helped the Liberty swipe the lead back in the second quarter before Seattle’s starters helped restore relative sanity.
Clarendon, the Liberty’s oldest player at 28, led all scorers with 20 points. She addressed the broadcast prior to tip-off to reiterate the WNBA’s dedication of the 2020 season to victims of racial violence and injustice, listing several African-American women killed through police brutality. Clarendon is a member of the WNBA’s Social Justice Council alongside newly minted Liberty CEO Keia Clark. Players from each side wore the name of one such victim, Breonna Taylor, on the back of their uniforms. A 26-second moment of observation was also held in recognition of Taylor’s age at the time of her death.
Outside shooting proved to be the Liberty’s downfall, as the team shot 6-of-28 deep (one conversion was Stokes’ first career three-pointer). That included an 0-for-8 posting from Ionescu, who tallied 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists in her highly-anticipated WNBA debut.
“In my first game, 12, 6, and 4 is something I’m going to live with and I’m not going to get too down on myself because we play in a couple of days and I have to continue to grow,” Ionescu said. “I think we can definitely refine things in every category…I need to take care of the ball better. But I think we did something really well. We gave them a game, especially through the first three quarters…I think that’s hat’s off to us. We came out strong, we didn’t hold off who they are. I think there’s a lot of positivity in that.”
Stewart led the Storm with 18 points while Bird reached 11 points primarily through a trio of triples. Clarendon’s fellow veteran Zahui B also reached double-figures for the Liberty with 10 points, while Kiah Stokes had 10 rebounds in her first Liberty game since September 2018.
New York and Seattle will meet again in the bubble on August 18.
The Liberty return to action Wednesday night, as they’ll take on the Dallas Wings (8 p.m. ET, CBSSN/Fox Sports Go).
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags