The Seattle Storm were missing roughly a quarter of their roster -- including perennial All-Star and WNBA all-time assists leader Sue Bird -- during Friday's 79-71 overtime victory against the New York Liberty after three players entered COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
Stephanie Talbot was the first player announced to have entered health and safety protocols Thursday, before Bird and Ezi Magbegor were added to the injury list Friday afternoon. The Storm were already without Mercedes Russell to start the season because of a non-basketball injury. The team signed Kiana Williams to a hardship contract as a result of all the absences.
"This isn't ideal, but it's the time that we're in," Storm coach Noelle Quinn said. "We've been through it before and know how to adjust to it."
Friday's game in Seattle was the first of back-to-back home games against the Liberty, with the mini-series concluding Sunday. The Storm gave up a 16-point second-half lead Friday but still managed to hand the 1-6 Liberty a sixth straight loss.
Under the WNBA's rules for COVID-19, players are tested only if they are symptomatic. Their return to play is symptom-specific, but generally players can be cleared after two negative tests that are at least 24 hours apart.
Earlier in the season, two-time Finals MVP Breanna Stewart and Epiphanny Prince also missed a pair of games for Seattle because of health and safety protocols. At the time, Stewart criticized the WNBA's travel policy barring chartering, implying that she contracted the virus from flying commercial.
"As a team, we've really been trying to navigate the health and safety protocols and trying to be safe and do the right thing," Stewart said after getting 31 points and nine rebounds Friday. "Especially to find out all of this on game day and then still be told, 'We're going to continue to play the game, just find a hardship player.' And Seattle is the farthest city in the country for someone to get to.
"We're just trying to get as many hardships as we can at this point ... but a little bit of some help and guidance from the WNBA would be nice."
Asked what that would entail, Stewart said, "I don't know what the right answer is. I think it's just having a better answer than, 'Get a hardship player.' At 11 a.m., on a 7 o'clock game. I know the schedule is really tight. This is the second time this has happened on a game day. It's just a little frustrating."
Teammate Jewell Loyd, who had 21 points Friday, brought up the fact that there is no G League from which the WNBA could draw players like the NBA did this season when faced with COVID-19 absences on their rosters.
"If we had a G League, it would help," Loyd said. "If we had some practice players in our system, and you could pull from that. [Where] they're actually here in market, they're not traveling and then have to play a game. I mean, it's ridiculous."
As for the Storm having had five players out so far this season due to COVID-19, Quinn said, "I know our players are doing the best that they can ... our team is super professional."
There have been eight WNBA players who have entered health and safety protocols throughout the first three weeks of the regular season. Phoenix's Sophie Cunningham and Atlanta's Monique Billings also missed games recently because of COVID-19.
ESPN's Mechelle Voepel contributed to this report.