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Five Takeaways from Opening Weekend

The 25th WNBA season tipped off on Friday and had a strong opening weekend full of exciting action, game-winning shots and standout performances. Here are five things that stood out most from the first three days of the season.

1. Game Winners on Opening Day

Sabrina Ionescu’s rookie season was cut short due to injury, but she is back for season two and got the Liberty and the WNBA off to a great start in the opening game of the 2021 season on Friday.

Ionescu finished with 25 points and 11 assists in New York’s 90-87 win over Indiana with 13 of her points coming in the fourth quarter, including the game-winning 3-pointer that splashed through the net with 0.4 seconds left.

It was her first WNBA game since July 31, 2020 when she suffered an ankle injury that required surgery and ended her rookie season.

Of course, that was only the first game-winning shot of the day. And while the youngster got things off to a great start, there was a veteran representing Phoenix ready to cap things off with another amazing moment in a career filled with them.

How clutch is Diana Taurasi? Check out this video from a Lynx fan in the crowd in Minnesota and listen to her reaction the moment that Taurasi gets the ball in a one-point game with under 10 seconds to play.

That’s the respect that Diana carries in this league. You expect that she’s making that shot, and would be surprised if she actually missed.

2. New York Matches Last Year’s Win Total

The Liberty went just 2-22 during the 2020 season as the young squad (featuring seven rookies) took its lumps in the bubble – especially after losing Ionsecu.

New York followed up its opening day win over Indiana in Brooklyn with another win against the Fever two days later in Indianapolis to improve to 2-0 on the season. The Liberty did not get its second win until Game No. 14 in 2020; in 2021, they got it in Game No. 2.

In addition to Ionescu being healthy, the Liberty also added Betnijah Laney as a free agent this past offseason. Laney won Most Improved Player honors in 2020 with the Atlanta Dream and is off to a strong start for the Liberty. After dropping a game-high 30 points in the opener, she followed it up with a 20-point effort on Sunday.

And don’t forget, the Liberty still don’t have Natasha Howard available yet as she continues to fulfill her overseas commitments before joining the Liberty. Howard, who was acquired by the Liberty from Seattle in an offseason trade involving the No. 1 pick in the 2021 Draft, is a three-time champion, 2018 Most Improved Player and 2019 Defensive Player of the Year.

Rookie Michaela Onyenwere has made a strong first impression as well, averaging 14.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and shooting 52.6% from the field for the Liberty through two games.

Former MVPs Candace Parker and Tina Charles made their debuts with new teams on Saturday as Parker and the Sky defeated Charles and the Mystics.

3. Candace in Chicago

16 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, 1 steal, 5-10 FG, 3-4 3P, 3-4 FT, 25 minutes, win.

That was Candace Parker’s debut game as a member of the Chicago Sky.

After playing her first 13 seasons – and winning Rookie of the Year, two Most Valuable Player awards, Defensive Player of the Year, the 2016 championship and Finals MVP – with the Los Angeles Sparks, Parker returned to her hometown team as a free agent and made an immediate impact.

Is Parker the missing piece that takes Chicago from playoff team to championship team? That won’t be answered by just one game, but the first impression was strong as the Sky defeated the shorthanded Mystics 70-56 to open the season.

4. Storm Begin Title Defense

The Seattle Storm raised their fourth championship banner and collected their 2020 championship rings on Saturday before defeating Las Vegas 97-83 in a rematch of last year’s WNBA Finals.

Same matchup. Same result. Same dominance from Breanna Stewart.

The two-time Finals MVP was brilliant in the season opener, finishing with 28 points and 13 rebounds. Jewell Loyd added 22 points and six assists, while Sue Bird dished out eight dimes to go with 11 points and five rebounds to help the Storm open their title defense in style.

The Storm lost two key components to their championship runs in both 2018 and 2020 with the departures of Alysha Clark and Natasha Howard. Those two defensive stalwarts will be missed this season, but at least for the opener against the new-look Aces, the Storm had enough defense to go with their potent offense to pick up the win.

5. Sun Start Strong

While the majority the league had just one game on opening weekend, the Connecticut Sun were one of four teams with two games on the schedule. And they are one of just two teams (along with New York) to already have two wins on the board.

The Sun opened the season with a 78-67 win over the Dream in Atlanta on Friday behind a combined 47 points from Jonquel Jones and DeWanna Bonner. Jones is back with the Sun after missing the 2020 season with a medical exemption. But while the Sun have an All-Star back for 2021, they are without another as Alyssa Thomas suffered an Achilles tear and is expected to miss the entire 2021 campaign.

Two days later, the Sun got 27 points from Bonner, a double-double (14 points, 13 rebounds) from Jones and shot 47.1% from 3-point range as a team as they outlasted Bonner’s former team, the Phoenix Mercury, 86-78.

Two things to keep in mind with the Sun.

1. Last year, they started the season 0-5, didn’t get their second win of the season until their eighth game, and still ended up one win away from a return trip to the WNBA Finals.

2. The Sun are 2-0 despite being without starting point guard Jasmine Thomas, who should make her season debut for the Sun this week after completing her COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

Bonus: Hall of Fame

In addition to opening up the WNBA’s 25th season, this weekend also saw the delayed enshrinement of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame class of 2020. The star-studded class included Indiana Fever legend Tamika Catchings, who put together one of the greatest careers in WNBA history.

After the class of 2020 was celebrated, the class of 2021 was announced and it includes a pair of former league MVPs and champions – Seattle’s Lauren Jackson and Sacramento’s Yolanda Griffith – as well as the first President of the WNBA, Val Ackerman, whose role in the formation of the league and laying the foundation on which the past 25 years has been build can not be overstated.