Being able to recognize and manage your emotions is a valuable skill. There are times when the moment can become overwhelming, but how you manage it goes a long way. It helps to recognize the emotion, understand it, and try not to let it overwhelm you. If you’re able to do that, it’ll help you in the present and the future. It also helps when you’ve got a great team around you to help you through it.
Tuesday night was a big night for Breanna Stewart on a variety of levels. It was her return to Seattle after six glorious seasons and two WNBA championships with the Storm. All eyes were on her as she competed against her old teammates for the first time. It was also a night for her new team to keep building as they continue on their championship journey. The Liberty did just enough to improve their record to 3-1 with an 86-78 win at Climate Pledge Arena.
In the middle of the third quarter, the Storm got it down to a three point game, the Liberty clinging to a 53-50 lead. However, New York went on an extended 15-3 run to seize control of the game. Stewart scored seven of her team high 25 points during that stretch, including this bit of magic over Ezi Magbegor...
In addition to her 25 points, she grabbed 11 rebounds, got two steals and had two blocks as well. Her game flipped in the second half as she played all 20 minutes and had 17 points on 6-10 shooting. In post, she talked about how the experience of her first time back in Seattle:
I think that it was a little bit like an emotional roller coaster of a day for me today. And I was trying to play through it, but I was telling Sandy in the first half I was just floating. I don’t think I was really doing anything except.. not sure what I was doing. But just the love that Seattle has for basketball, for the Storm and everything that we’ve been able to accomplish together.
She was asked what changed after halftime and gave a great answer:
"I was like "Come on, let’s get my shit together!" But just continuing to kind of have that mentality of next play, next thing making an impact. Whether it was scoring or rebounding and things like that. Sometimes the little things help me to a little bigger things. And I just really appreciate the staff and everybody for not making it a bigger thing than it was even though it was a really big thing."
As Stewart got into her rhythm, Sabrina Ionescu held things down. With the new roster, the Liberty will make you pay every time you try to double or give too much help. To wit...
Jonquel Jones had scored seven straight points, so naturally you want to provide a little extra help to make it tough on her. Good plan. Only problem is you wind up leaving Sabrina Ionescu wide open in the short corner! What to do, what to do? On the night, Sab finished with 20 points and six rebounds on 6-10 shooting from deep. On the season, Ionescu is third in threes attempted at 8.5 a night. Most impressively, she is shooting a career best 45.5 percent from downtown. Having a player that can hit threes in the ways and the distances that Ionescu does is critical for this Liberty team. We’ll continue to observe how the team generates open shots for their young star.
Making it happen
The Liberty's depth will be a big story throughout the season, and Dolson’s role in particular will be key. She started for the Liberty last season and is taking on a reserve role this time around. Sandy Brondello turned to Dolson late and you could see how Dolson serves as a perfect connector for this Liberty team.
On the night, Dolson finished with ten points, five assists, and a block in 17 minutes. Last game, Courtney Vandersloot highlighted Dolson’s passing ability in the post and her ability to hit cutters on the move. Tonight, Dolson was able to help jam up Seattle’s switching strategy, as Brondello explained:
Brondello on Seattle switches: "I thought we exploited them a little early but it took us a little out of our rhythm...they got agressive, closing out really hard. We didn't have perfect spacing, but (Dolson) got the roll...that's where we need more poise." (Ehrlich) #WNBA— Geoff Magliocchetti (@GeoffJMags) May 31, 2023
With Jones working her way back to full strength and the youth of Nyara Sabally and Han Xu, Dolson will be essential to the Liberty’s plans as we go along.
For all the attention the Liberty have gotten, it feels as if Betnijah Laney is sometimes forgotten. Bee is an All Star in her own right and when she returned from injury last season, helped lead the Liberty as they made the playoffs. Her role has changed with the infusion of star power, but she's still a terrific player and key to the Liberty’s title dreams.
Laney had the primary assignment of slowing down Seattle's remaining All Star, Jewell Loyd. Loyd came into the game third in the WNBA in scoring and first in field goal attempts. Jewell led everyone in scoring with 26 points on 9-16 shooting, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Laney made it difficult for her to get the ball and made every attempt tough on her
In post, I asked Sandy Brondello about Laney and she said...
Sandy Brondello on Betnijah Laney: "She brings a toughness. Her role: she's going to be guarding the best perimeter player on the other end, and she competes. Jewell had a good night, but she's a late player." (Q: @busyxb)— Myles (@MylesEhrlich) May 31, 2023
The best leaders are those who can answer the call no matter what’s asked of them. Since her arrival in 2021, Laney has been the ideal leader and someone everyone in the Liberty organization can rally around. As the team continues to develop chemistry and build winning habits, her leadership and poise will help speed up that process.
First of many?
Also Tuesday, Breanna Stewart was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the first week of the season. She averaged 26 points, 10 rebounds and three steals per game, her first POW honors with the New York Liberty.
Here’s the highlights...
The homecoming tour continues as the Liberty visit Courtney Vandersloot’s old home as they take on the Chicago Sky. Tip after 6:00 p.m. Friday night on Ion TV.