Caitlin Clark drops 22, but Fever fall to Liberty, remain winless

ByAlexa Philippou ESPN logo
Saturday, May 18, 2024

NEW YORK -- The result may have been the same, but 2024 No. 1 WNBA draft pick Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever's 91-80 loss to the New York Libertyon Saturday was their most promising performance yet.

Clark and the Fever (0-3) took on head coach Christie Sides' challenge following their 36-point defeat to the Liberty on Thursday: Compete and play with more pride. Despite falling behind by 23 midway through the third quarter Saturday, Indiana cut the deficit to a respectable 11 points by game's end, ultimately outscoring the 2023 WNBA Finals runners-up 43-34 in the second half.

Clark, the NCAA Division I all-time leading scorer, finished with 22 points on 9-for-17 shooting (4-for-10 on 3-pointers), the most points and her best efficiency in a game of her young pro career, while adding eight assists, six rebounds, one steal and committing eight turnovers.

"I thought I came out and just played harder, and I think that's going to be just my biggest focus going forward," Clark said. "Just come out and compete and play hard. I thought our whole group did that."

"Lots of growth from the night before last till today," Sides added of the team. "The word was 'compete,' that was the word of the day. I asked them what that felt like, sounded like, looked like. I thought that's what it was for us tonight."

In their first home game of the 2024 season, and in front of a sellout crowd of 17,735, the Liberty improved to 3-0. Reigning MVP Breanna Stewart had a game-high 24 points.

The Fever struck early, their offense looking the best it has been all season in the first quarter. Clark scored 10 points and dished out three assists in that frame alone. It helped to have All-Star guard Kelsey Mitchell (17 points) back in the starting five for the first time this season as she returns from an offseason ankle injury.

But the Liberty couldn't miss from deep most of the game, with all five starters sinking multiple 3-pointers for the first time ever in a WNBA regular-season game. Sabrina Ionescu and Betnijah Laney-Hamilton, the latter Clark's primary defender, hit four and three 3s, respectively, while the team overall made 15 of 32 attempts from the arc, hitting 12 in the first half.

New York also asserted their win in transition, where they bested the Fever 30-7.

Defense will remain a focus for Indiana moving forward: The Fever's 285 points allowed are the fourth most through the first three games of a season in league history.

But Sides was pleased with how her team won the battle in the paint (38-32) and on the glass (34-32). She, Mitchell and Clark all thought the team played with more pace, which helped open things offensively, particularly early.

"I think tonight overall was just a better indication of exactly where we are," Sides said. "I think we could not even figure that out the other night and that was what was so frustrating. Now we kind of have an idea of where we are."

"It was better, but we shouldn't be happy," Mitchell said of the team's response. "We didn't lose by 40 today, so I'll take it."

In her most comfortable WNBA game yet, Clark became the fourth player in league history to record 50 points and 15 assists in their first three career games, joining Candace Parker, Sue Bird and Nikki McCray. Her 21 turnovers, meanwhile, are the most for any player through their first three career games.

"I'm going to continue to learn from game to game, but I thought tonight was better," Clark said.

The Fever may have demonstrated progress, but the competition won't let up anytime soon. They return home for a Monday rematch against the Connecticut Sun before a three-game road trip to face the Seattle Storm, Los Angeles Sparks and two-time defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

"They were really disappointed and hurt after our New York game the other night, and I think they showed up today with a chip on their shoulder, wanting to prove what they're capable of doing," Sides said. "And I think against Connecticut, it's the same thing. It's a process. We're finding our way."

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