A deep 3 by Caitlin Clark buries Sparks and secures the Fever’s first win

LOS ANGELES — For about 38 minutes, all Caitlin Clark could do was pass up the opportunity.

That wasn’t what the record-setting sold-out crowd in Los Angeles, which was filled with Clark T-shirts in fever colors and Iowa shades, witnessed.

Clark scored just five points and watched in frustration as all seven of her three-point attempts hit the rim. Then, with 2:24 remaining in the game and the winless Indiana Fever clinging to a 3-point lead against the Los Angeles Sparks, Clark dropped back from farther from the 3-point line — 33 feet to be exact — and finally found the bottom of the net. .

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

After a game full of uncharacteristic errors from deep, Clarke’s first strike showed a familiar face as it gave the opposing crowd a knowing smile.

not finished.

With less than a minute remaining and the fever rising by just two, Clark pulled out again, this time from 28 feet, rustling. The No. 1 overall pick turned back to the crowd with a smile and added a Michael Jordan-like shrug. The shot sealed the win, 78-73, giving Clark and the Fever their first win of the season.

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“We were very close,” Fever coach Christy Sides said. “We stayed prepared.”

In a high-profile matchup between Clarke and No. 2 overall pick Cameron Brink, Clarke will need every bit of her confidence. Friday’s match was her worst as a pro so far, but what she lacked in scoring, Clarke made up for in almost every other aspect of her game.

“She hit some tough shots but she did everything we needed her to do,” Sides said. “She’s really focused on helping us, getting better on the defensive end, and I’m really proud of her energy.”

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

But in the second half, Clarke adjusted. She kept shooting and kept missing, but she also made her mark on the game by grabbing 10 rebounds, dishing out eight assists — including a few eye-catching passes that broke through tight windows — and ripping. Team high with four steals.

Clark said postgame that despite the 0-5 start, she has felt more comfortable in her last few matches. She said it was helpful to remind herself that it’s “not just about scoring goals” but about how to impact the game in other ways.

“I thought I played a really good game other than that [shooting]“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,” Clark said.

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If Clark found ways to make her presence felt on a mostly quiet night, it was her teammates who shouldered the load on the scoring front. Aliyah Boston shot 50 percent from the field and scored 17 points, Kelsey Mitchell scored 18 points, and Timmy Fagbenle added 17 points off the bench. Clark’s defense, along with the rest of the Fever’s efforts in that regard, held the Sparks to an 11-point lead in the third quarter.

After the Fever erased an 11-point Spark lead at halftime with an 11-0 run, the game went back and forth as both teams struggled to make runs and stay ahead. As time dwindled in the fourth quarter and the lead bounced back and forth, it became clear that Clark’s passing, defense and rebounding would not be enough. Winning will require her to do what she does best, what fans have come to see her do: score.

Clark said she knows it’s only a matter of time before the shots start falling.

“To be honest, I went to the bench after saying, ‘It was scheduled, they should have come in,’” Clark said of her two late ones. “I missed a lot of players throughout the game. It’s time for them to come on.”

Within just two minutes, Clarke’s brutal game suddenly turned into a highlight of his early career. As she greeted the Los Angeles crowd that stayed after the bell to give her a standing ovation, the scene was a reminder that even though she’s playing in a new league and for a new team, Clark can still put on a show.

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“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Clark, who is 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 joy of the game, and nights like tonight remind me why I love playing basketball.”

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