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How Sam Thomas and Aari McDonald did in week 1 of the WNBA

The Atlanta Dream’s Aari McDonald brings the ball up the court against the Dallas Wings on opening day of the 2022 WNBA season. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE
Jim Cowsert/NBAE via Getty Images

The WNBA tipped off its season on May 6. Arizona alumnae Aari McDonald and Sam Thomas both saw action in one game in their teams’ season debuts.

Sam Thomas and the Phoenix Mercury

A shorthanded Mercury lost big to the Las Vegas Aces on the league’s opening night at the Footprint Center. Phoenix fell behind early on its way to a 106-88 defeat.

Thomas saw eight minutes of action in her debut, missing the only shot she took. She grabbed a rebound and had an assist while former coaches Adia Barnes and Salvo Coppa, as well as a number of fans who made the trip from Tucson, cheered on from the stands. More importantly, she impressed her new teammates.

“She’ll have the opportunity to get more looks,” said starting point guard Skylar Diggins-Smith. “But she’s learning and she’s been great. She’s been great all camp, low maintenance, keeps her head down, is a great teammate on the floor. So this is literally just the beginning for her, and so it was great that she actually got an opportunity as a rookie, to get out here tonight in the first game and get her feet wet, if you will. But her future’s bright. I got her back.”

Thomas was pleased to get her first minutes in front of the crowd in Phoenix. For some players, it might have been a bit overwhelming to play in front of the kind of crowds the Mercury usually bring. Thomas had the experience at McKale Center over the past several years to help her acclimate to it quickly.

“It was amazing,” Thomas said. “Love Arizona and the fans. Wish we could have come out with a little bit better ending to that, but it was great to play here. Hopefully next time we play here on Wednesday...we’ll get a win.”

The Mercury expect starting forward Brianna Turner and new addition Diamond DeShields back soon after completing their seasons in Europe. Both missed Friday’s game.

In addition to the absence of Brittney Griner and the injury to Kia Nurse, the late arrivals of Turner and DeShields forced Phoenix to sign forward Emma Cannon and guard Jennie Simms to short-term deals. That still left the team with just 10 active players.

The Mercury will host the Seattle Storm on Wednesday, May 11 at 7 p.m. MST/PDT. On Saturday, May 14, they travel to Seattle to play the second of back-to-back games against the Storm. That game tips off at 12 p.m. MST/PDT.

Aari McDonald and the Atlanta Dream

The Dream had more success when they opened their season on May 7 with a 66-59 defeat of the Dallas Wings. After an unstable season last year when her minutes fluctuated as wildly as her head coaches, McDonald saw 18 minutes of play on opening day this year.

McDonald went 0-for-3 from the floor and went 1-2 from the free-throw line. All three shots were from outside the arc. She grabbed one rebound to go with her one point. Despite the low stats, she had the team’s second-highest plus-minus at +14, trailing only the +16 of starting forward Cheyenne Parker.

The Dream return to the court for three games this week. They will have their home opener against the Los Angeles Sparks on Wednesday, May 11 at 4 p.m MST/PDT. On Friday, May 13 at 4:30 p.m. MST/PDT, they will host the Las Vegas Aces. Finally, they head back out on the road to face the Indiana Fever at 12 p.m. MST/PDT on Sunday, May 15.