Caitlin Clark's deep 3 buries Sparks, secures Fever's 1st win

ByPaolo Uggetti ESPN logo
Saturday, May 25, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- For nearly 38 minutes, all Caitlin Clark could do was miss.

It was not what the sold-out, record crowd, dotted with Clark jerseys in both Indiana Fever colors and Iowa shades, had come to witness.

Clark had scored only five points and watched in frustration as all seven of her 3-point attempts clanked off the rim. Then with 2:24 left in the game and the winlessFever clinging to a 3-point lead against the Los Angeles Sparks, Clark stepped back from way beyond the 3-point line -- 33 feet to be exact -- and finally found the bottom of the net.

"I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing, but I seriously think every shot I shoot is going to go in," Clark said. "Some nights are absolutely amazing and some nights you struggle to shoot it a little bit, but I want to take those shots at the end of the game. I think it's a mindset and a confidence that you have to have about yourself."

After an entire game of uncharacteristic misses from deep, Clark's first make brought on a familiar face as she gave the opposing crowd a knowing smile.

She wasn't done.

With less than a minute left and the Fever now up by only two, Clark pulled up again, this time from 28 feet, and swished. The No. 1 overall pick once again turned to the crowd with a grin and added a Michael Jordan-like shrug. The shot sealed a 78-73 win, giving Clark and the Fever their first victory of the season.

"We've been so close," Fever coach Christie Sides said. "We just stayed poised."

In a marquee matchup between Clark and No. 2 overall pickCameron Brink, Clark would need every bit of her confidence. Friday's game was her worst as a professional, but what she lacked in scoring, Clark made up in nearly every other aspect of her game.

"She hit some huge shots but did everything we needed her to do," Sides said. "She's really focused on really helping us out, getting better on the defensive [end]. I'm really proud of her energy."

Throughout most of the first half, Clark was flummoxed by the Sparks' defense, unable to get into a rhythm. The Fever went into the locker room down 11 points after shooting 39% from the field and 22% from 3.

But in the second half, Clark adjusted. She kept shooting and kept missing, but she also put her imprint on the game by grabbing a team-high 10 rebounds, churning out a team-high eight assists -- including a few eye-popping passes that threaded tight windows -- and snagging a team-high four steals.

Clark said postgame that, despite the 0-5 start, she has felt more comfortable in her past few games. She said it has been helpful to remind herself that it's "not all about the scoring" but rather how she can impact the game in other ways.

"I thought I played a really good game other than [shooting]," Clark said. "Whether I was rebounding, finding my teammates, I thought I was really active on defense, so I didn't let that bother me, and that's something I'm really proud of."

If Clark found ways to make her presence felt on what was mostly an off night, then her teammates were the ones who shouldered the load on the scoring front. Aliyah Boston shot 57% from the field and had 17 points, Kelsey Mitchell had a team-high 18 points, andTemi Fagbenle added 17 off the bench. Clark's defense, along with the rest of the Fever's efforts on that end, held the Sparks to 11 points in the third quarter.

After the Fever erased the Sparks' 11-point halftime lead with an 11-0 run, the game went back and forth as both teams battled to make a run and stay ahead. With time dwindling in the fourth quarter and the lead bouncing back and forth, it became clear that Clark's passing, defense and rebounding would not be enough. A win would require her to do what she does best, what the crowd on hand had come to see her do: score.

Clark said she knew it was only a matter of time before the shots started to fall.

"To be honest, I went to the bench after I was like, 'I was due, they had to go in,'" Clark said of her two late 3s. "I had missed so many throughout the game. It was time for them to go in."

With just two moments, Clark's rough game was suddenly transformed into an early career highlight. As she saluted the Los Angeles crowd that stayed after the buzzer to give her a standing ovation, the scene was a reminder that although she is playing in a new league and for a new team, Clark can still put on a show.

"It's been a whirlwind," said Clark, now six games into her WNBA career. "This is my job, this is what I love to do, but I never want to lose the fun of the game, and nights like tonight remind me why I love playing basketball."

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