WNBA

WNBA Opening Weekend Highlighted By Griner’s Return, Stewart’s Historic Performance

May 23, 2023, 12:39 PM

Brittney-Griner-Phoenix-Mercury-WNBA...

Brittney Griner #42 of the Phoenix Mercury reacts after hitting a three-point shot against the Chicago Sky during the second half of the WNBA game at Footprint Center on May 21, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

AP – The WNBA tipped off its 27th season this past weekend with the return of Brittney Griner, a historic effort by Breanna Stewart and a dominant performance by the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

But not everything went according to the early season script.

A revamped Chicago team won both of its games, including a victory in Phoenix to spoil the home debut of Griner after being imprisoned last year in a Russian jail. Griner played on opening night in Los Angeles with Vice President Kamala Harris in attendance.

The Sky, who lost four of their five starters from last season’s team, had impressive road wins over Minnesota and the Mercury playing stellar defense. Chicago held both teams under 70 points and will play its first home game on Friday against Washington.

That will come a night after the Aces visit the Los Angeles Sparks in the first of a home-and-home set between the teams. Las Vegas will still be missing head coach Becky Hammon, who is serving a two-game suspension from the league for violating “respect in the workplace” policies after former Aces player Dearica Hamby said she had been bullied and manipulated for being pregnant.

Hamby now plays with Los Angeles and the teams will play again on Saturday in Las Vegas. The Aces, who routed Seattle by 41 points in the season opener, will celebrate last season’s championship with a ring ceremony and championship banner unveiling. That will be Hammon’s first game back from her suspension.

The Aces are once again the top team in the AP WNBA power poll. They are followed by Connecticut, which won its first two games. Washington, New York and Chicago are next. Dallas and Los Angeles came after the Sky. Phoenix, Atlanta and Minnesota. Indiana and Seattle finished off the rankings tied for 11th.

GRINER WATCH

Griner played in her first WNBA regular season games last weekend after spending last season in a Russian jail. Griner averaged 22.5 points, eight rebounds and four blocks in two losses. She received a massive ovation from the Phoenix fans when she was introduced before the home opener on Sunday.

“There might have been a little dust in my eye, a little dusty,” she said. “It was emotional being back stage, seeing some of the clips.”

Her debut at Los Angeles last Friday was the most viewed regular season WNBA game on cable in 24 years with 683,000 viewers.

Next up for Griner is a home game Thursday against Minnesota and USA Basketball coach Cheryl Reeve. Griner said she would be interesting in playing for the U.S. in the Olympics next year.

BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS

Breanna Stewart, who was the AP player of the week, had a long day Sunday. She woke up at 6 a.m. to her 21-month-old daughter Ruby screaming.

Ruby “doesn’t care that I have a game,” Stewart said.

When asked what she had for breakfast before scoring a career and franchise-best 45 points in a win over Indiana, Stewart recalled having toast with cream cheese, a cheese omelet, bacon, breakfast potatoes and some fruit that she chased down with orange juice.

“Can you make me that? I’m gonna come over next game,” Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu joked when hearing Stewart’s meal of choice.

GAME OF THE WEEK

Indiana at Atlanta, Sunday. The Fever will try and avoid setting the WNBA record for futility with a 21st consecutive loss. Indiana lost its final 18 games last season and started off 0-2 this year to tie the 2011 Tulsa Shock for the longest losing streak ever.

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WNBA Opening Weekend Highlighted By Griner’s Return, Stewart’s Historic Performance