Clark delivers in Fever win, draws praise from Mercury’s Taurasi

PHOENIX — Back from a migraine and being pressured hard by Phoenix’s defense, Caitlin Clark still delivered Sunday. The Fever guard finished one rebound short of what would have been the first triple-double by a WNBA rookie as Indiana beat the Mercury 88-82.

The game was dubbed “The GOAT” (Mercury’s Diana Taurasi) vs. “The Rook” (Clark) — one a 42-year-old legend who has won three WNBA titles and five Olympic gold medals, the other a 22-year-old playing for the first time in Phoenix.

As is typical for Clark and Indiana this season, Fever supporters made up a decent-sized portion of the sellout crowd of 17,071 at Footprint Center. Despite the Fever falling behind 17-4 to open the game, trailing by 11 at halftime and being down as much as 15 in the second half, the Fever sent their fans home happy.

Clark didn’t come to the postgame news conference because she wasn’t feeling well, but she did talk briefly to ESPN’s Christine Williamson on court after the game.

“I’m just happy we won,” said Clark, who finished with 15 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds. “It was cool to play against [Taurasi], and obviously a really great game. This crowd was absolutely incredible.”

Taurasi, in her 20th WNBA season, is the league’s all-time leading scorer. Clark finished her Iowa career in early April as the all-time leading scorer in Division I basketball, men or women.

Both were No. 1 draft picks with big workloads as rookies. But Taurasi, WNBA Rookie of the Year in 2004, came of age in the days before social media and NIL deals. Those things have greatly impacted Clark’s profile. Her rookie season has been in a much bigger spotlight because of technology and the growth of the WNBA the past 20 years.

Taurasi’s remark during Clark’s final college season that “Reality is coming,” regarding her transition to the WNBA was no different from anything the veteran has said about rookies her whole career. After Sunday’s game, Taurasi praised Clark.

“It’s amazing what Caitlin’s been able to do in her short career so far,” Taurasi said. “The one thing that I really love about her, she loves the game. You can tell she’s put the work in. … It’s been a lot of pressure, a lot of things thrown at her, and she keeps showing up and keeps getting better every single game.

“So her future is super bright, and being a veteran and being in this league for a long, long time, it is pretty cool to see that and go into the future.”

Taurasi, the oldest active player in the WNBA, is the gold standard for guards in the league, and she did her part Sunday with 19 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals. Fellow guard Natasha Cloud had 15 points and seven assists, while center Brittney Griner led Phoenix with 24 points.

But the Fever won the rebounding battle 42-28, led by forward NaLyssa Smith‘s 15 boards. Centers Aliyah Boston (17 points) and Temi Fagbenle (10), forward Smith (12) and guard Kelsey Mitchell (16) joined Clark in double-digit scoring.

Clark was 4-of-14 from the field, taking shots against six different Mercury defenders throughout the game. But her passing was one of the biggest keys to the Fever victory.

The game got chippy at points, with the teams combining for five technical fouls and two flagrant fouls. Despite the Mercury being the more veteran team, the Fever kept their cool down the stretch.

“We continue to tell each other, ‘We’re good, stay here, pay attention to what we have to do,'” forward Aliyah Boston said. “Use that as energy for us, not as a distraction, not worrying about if they’re going to foul us hard or not. Every night it’s going to be a battle, so we have to be ready for it.”

It was the first time since 2022 that the Fever were able to rally for a victory from down at least 15 points. After going 1-8 to start the season in May, the Fever went 7-4 in June. Indiana hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016 but is currently in position to do so.

“That’s a team that for the last couple years [has been] trying to get to back to their glory days of Tamika Catchings and putting up a banner,” Taurasi said of the Fever. “I think what [Clark is] doing for that team right now is pretty impressive.”

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