(Photo credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)
Breanna Stewart delivered two WNBA titles in six seasons with the Seattle Storm. Then she signed with the New York Liberty to help them become a contender.
After powering the Liberty to the most successful regular season in team history, Stewart leads her new team into the postseason starting with Friday's visit from the Washington Mystics in Game 1 of a best-of-three series.
Stewart is competing with Las Vegas forward A'ja Wilson and Connecticut's Alyssa Thomas for the MVP award that will be announced Sept. 26. Stewart averaged a career-high 23.0 points and 9.3 rebounds and transformed the Liberty into one of the league's top-scoring offenses.
"We're just very, very happy that Breanna Stewart is here in New York because she's taken us to the other level," Liberty coach Sandy Brondello said.
New York won 32 of 40 games for the league's second-best record after enduring five straight losing seasons. Aside from Stewart, the Liberty added 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones in a trade from Connecticut and she settled into a productive role alongside Sabrina Ionescu, who shot a career-best 44.8 percent from 3-point range.
Washington is four years removed from its championship and capped a 19-21 regular season with a 90-88 win against the Liberty in Brooklyn on Sunday. Brittney Sykes scored on a lob pass from Natasha Cloud just before the buzzer to cap a 20-point performance.
"We started the game and we want to send a message, 'You're going to have to see us all series long,'" Washington's Natasha Cloud said. "'You have to go through a really good team still -- a team that's hungry, a team full of dogs. Let it be known this is going to be a really good series."
Sykes averaged 15.9 points and Cloud contributed 12.7 in a season when Elena Delle Donne was limited to 23 games. The Mystics split their final 10 games after Delle Donne returned from an ankle injury on Aug. 18. While Delle Donne is healthy, Washington will be without Shakira Austin due to a lingering hip injury for at least the first two games after the forward was limited to 19 games because of the same injury.
Washington is the only team to beat New York twice during the regular season. The Mystics held Stewart to nine points on 4-of-17 shooting Sunday and held the star to 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting during an 80-64 win in the season opener on May 19 in Washington.
"Washington is a really good team," said Stewart, who shot 32.8 percent (20-of-61) in four games against the Mystics this season.
"Obviously, they've struggled with a lot of injuries throughout the season. But everyone knows they have great players on their team."
--Field Level Media