After a long-awaited start to the 2021 WNBA regular season, the new year finally tipped off on Friday night as the 32-game schedule began throughout the league.
As everyone had hoped, opening weekend in the WNBA was an entertaining one. From a flood of game-winning shots on opening night to some of the top teams in the league squaring off throughout the rest of the weekend, we were all reminded just how fun the WNBA can be and how glad we are that it’s finally back.
Now with opening weekend in the books and the rest of the regular season schedule continuing to roll along, let’s dive into five takeaways from the first three days of action across the league.
5. Lynx Newcomers Playing Large Role Early On
The Minnesota Lynx impressed this offseason by going out and signing the free agent trio of Kayla McBride, Aerial Powers, and Natalie Achonwa. In their debut with their new team on opening night Friday against the Phoenix Mercury, they played key roles.
Even though the game resulted in a 77-75 loss to Phoenix, McBride and Powers had positive impacts in their first game in Lynx uniforms and were big down the stretch of Friday’s matchup, McBride looked comfortable despite not practicing with her new team yet, finishing with 17 points, six rebounds, and two blocks. Powers tallied a team-best 18 points, six rebounds, three assists, and two blocks.
Achonwa didn’t leave as large of a mark in her debut, ending up with just two points and three rebounds in just under 13 minutes, but she played a key role by coming off the bench in relief of Sylvia Fowles in the post.
We didn’t know just how fast they would get adjusted to life in Minnesota, but it’s apparent that the trio will play large roles for their new team, at least early on in the season.
4. Storm Show They are Still Dominant
After claiming the 2020 WNBA championship, the Seattle Storm saw a fairly major roster shakeup this offseason, namely with the departures of Natasha Howard, Alysha Clark, and Sami Whitcomb along with additions of Candice Dupree, Katie Lou Samuelson, Mikiah Herbert Harrigan, and others.
The exits of Howard, Clark and Whitcomb caught some off guard, and as a result, many have overlooked the defending champions while teams like the Las Vegas Aces, Chicago Sky, Minnesota Lynx, and others have received more attention going into the new year.
But in its season-opening game against Las Vegas on Saturday, Seattle reminded everyone it should still be taken seriously once again this summer.
The Storm took down the Aces, who are early favorites to win the WNBA title this year, 97-83 to open the season. Led by the trio of Breanna Stewart, Jewell Loyd, and Sue Bird, Seattle displayed some depth and a balanced attack, even after the departures experienced over the offseason.
The balance of solid teams in the WNBA this season might be the best it’s been in the last few years, and Seattle’s performance to open the new year shows everyone it will once again be in a position to battle for a championship in 2021.
3. Connecticut Impresses While Starting Season 2-0
There were a few teams that impressed on opening weekend, but the Connecticut Sun had perhaps the most impressive of them all with a pair of victories to tip off the season.
Connecticut began the year on Friday night by taking on the Atlanta Dream in Atlanta, which was a game the Sun were initially viewed as about a two-point favorite to win. Connecticut ended up winning 78-67 to begin the year on a high note.
To follow that game up, the Sun returned home to host Phoenix on Sunday, holding off the Mercury and claiming that game by a score of 86-78 to start the regular season 2-0.
Although winning both games on opening weekend should already be viewed as an obvious positive, the way the Sun won those games was most impressive. Connecticut displayed stellar defense and game-changing hustle plays in both contests to be able to come out ahead and sit atop the league standings following opening weekend.
The first weekend of the new year began as well as Curt Miller and company could have hoped for.
2. Seeing Candace Parker in a Sky Jersey is Weird
If we all thought it was weird seeing Seimone Augustus in anything other than a Minnesota Lynx jersey last season after she surprisingly joined the Los Angeles Sparks in free agency, Candace Parker took it up a notch this season.
After spending the entirety of her WNBA career in Los Angeles, Parker signed with the Sky this offseason to join her hometown team, likely for the remainder of her playing career.
And boy, was it weird seeing her in a uniform other than a No. 3 Sparks jersey in Chicago’s season opener on Saturday against the Washington Mystics.
Even though she was sporting a different jersey, Parker displayed the type of performance we’ve often seen out of her as a professional, leading the Sky to a 70-56 win with 16 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and three blocks.
• 16 Pts
• 8 Reb
• 4 Ast
• 3 Blk
• W @Candace_Parker was SHINING in her Sky debut ✨ pic.twitter.com/qm5gGYxlWt
— ESPN (@espn) May 15, 2021
Nobody can argue that Parker is a welcome addition for Chicago and will help it improve this season, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t odd seeing her with the Sky or any team other than the Sparks.
1. Sabrina Ionescu is Back
To kick off the regular season schedule, the New York Liberty hosted the Indiana Fever at Barclays Center in Brooklyn in what ended up being one of the more entertaining games of Friday’s opening night slate.
And Sabrina Ionescu, who missed basically the entire season in 2020 with a season-ending injury, didn’t waste any time storming back onto the scene.
In just her fourth WNBA game, the 2020 No. 1 pick finished with an impressive stat line of 25 points, 11 assists, and six rebounds in nearly 37 minutes of action. To top it off, she pushed the Liberty to a 90-87 victory capped by a game-winner in the final seconds.
Sabrina Ionescu FOR THE WIN! 😱 pic.twitter.com/BrwRkiInz0
— NBA TV (@NBATV) May 15, 2021
Ionescu followed that performance up by tallying 12 points, five rebounds, four assists, and two blocks on Sunday in a rematch with the Fever on the road in Indiana. Most importantly, she helped lead New York to its second win in as many games, already matching the team win total from a year ago.
Coming into the season, there were questions as to how fast Ionescu would be able to bounce back following her injury in the bubble last season, but she proved to all of us on opening weekend that she’s back to form.