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New York Liberty lose opener to Seattle Storm as Sabrina Ionescu scores 12

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Seattle Storm v New York Liberty Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

In Sabrina Ionescu’s WNBA debut at the league’s “wubble” in Florida, the Liberty lost to a veteran Seattle Storm team, 87-71, on Saturday afternoon.

Ionescu, who was supposed to lead the Liberty into Brooklyn this season, had 12 points, six rebounds and four assists in 34 minutes at the IMG Academy instead. She was one of six active Liberty rookies who played Saturday. The six scored 34 points. Leaonna Odom and Jocelyn Willoughby each added nine points, respectively. Willoughby also grabbed four rebounds.

Layshia Clarendon, the veteran point guard signed by New York in the off-season, led the Liberty with 20 points. Swedish center Amanda Zahui B finished with 10 points, eight rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes of action.

“I think they do a really good job of complementing one another,” coach Walt Hopkins said of Clarendon and Ionescu. “I think that what we need to do more of is get them into off-the-ball split-actions. With a team that’s really aggressive against the pick-and-roll, I think that it was a really good game for us to see kind of a weakness in the way that we’re attacking defenses.”

Here’s Clarendon’s highlight package...

Ionescu said she was generally satisfied with her debut, despite shooting 0-for-8 on 3’s and committing four turnovers.

“I’ll live with 12, six and four in my first game against the best team in the league,” Ionescu said. “I’m not used to having to take eight threes a game. That’s something that I’m not used to. I’m used to being able to come down and facilitate and now I have to definitely be more of a scorer.

“I’m not going to get too down on myself because we play in a couple of days and I have to learn from those mistakes and continue to grow.”

Indeed, Ionescu had more than one highlight, but this may have been the one most likely to show what she can do going forward...

For the Storm, the big story was the return of Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird, neither of whom played last season due to injury but had been part of Seattle’s 2018 WNBA championship. Stewart finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and four steals.

The two teams gathered on the court in Bradenton before the game to honor Breonna Taylor who was killed by Louisville police 134 days ago. Clarendon and Stewart demanded justice for Taylor (whose name appears on all WNBA jerseys this season) and offered a moment of silence that lasted 26 seconds, the number representing Taylor’s age when she was killed.

“We are dedicating this season to Breonna Taylor, an outstanding EMT who was murdered over 130 days ago in her home. Breonna Taylor was dedicated and committed to uplifting everyone around her,” Clarendon said.

“We’re also dedicating this season to Say Her Name campaign, a campaign committed to saying the names and fighting for justice for Black women, Black women who are so often forgotten in this fight for justice, who do not have people marching in the streets for them.”

In addition, as the national anthem played just before tip off, Storm and Liberty players dropped their basketballs, exited the court and headed back to their respective locker rooms as part of their social justice initiative.

“Yes, we play basketball,” Bird said, “but right now, we have a platform to bring awareness, and that’s what we’re focused on.”

Or as owner Joe Tsai said in a tweet that included a Liberty video on Black Lives Matter...

In its game summary, the Liberty’s official site topped both “Liberty Notes” and “Key Stats” sections with this — “#SayHerName: It has been 134 days since Breonna Taylor was shot and killed in her own apartment. The officers responsible for her death have not been arrested.”