Fever Fall Despite Clark’s Career Night

By Madie Chandler | FeverBasketball.com

It should not be surprising that the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer can cut up a defense.

That’s why nobody was surprised when Caitlin Clark sank a fourth-quarter free throw on Tuesday night to give her 23 points – eclipsing her previous career-high of 22 points – and went on to score seven more en route to her first 30-point outing as a professional player in Indiana’s 88-82 loss to Los Angeles.

Thirteen of Clark’s 30 points came at the free throw line – a mark that indicates her aggression as a driver – as she opened opportunities for her teammates from long-range by collapsing the defense in the paint.

“I just played with an aggressive mindset,” Clark said. “I think that was the biggest thing. I just tried to play downhill the best I could.”

Clark’s aggressive mindset translated across the court as she notched three blocks and three steals on the defensive side of the ball.

Clark is an offensive powerhouse and the engine of the Indiana Fever, but her game against the Sparks marked her most complete game as a pro for her play on the defensive end. She’s had multiple 20-point nights – her most recent came last Wednesday in Seattle – but never as scrappy a defensive stand as Tuesday’s matchup with Los Angeles.

“I think my defense has improved quite a bit,” Clark said. “People will probably pick on my defense quite a bit. And you know, there’s times where it’s good and there’s times where I’m still learning and growing.”

Her three steals and three blocks nearly outshined Clark’s 30 points, five rebounds, and six assists – she’s just the fourth WNBA player in history to hit those numbers in a game. Her timely steals and momentum-shifting blocks gave the Fever a glimpse of future defensive prowess.

Clark led Indiana with her trio of blocked shots and combined with Kristy Wallace for seven of the Fever’s 12 total steals. Despite the impressive individual defensive statistics, Indiana couldn’t overcome an 11-0 fourth-quarter punch from Los Angeles to end the game.

“I think that was that was huge that they put 11 points together right there,” Clark said of the Sparks’ fourth-quarter blow. “We played good defense, honestly, through the entire third. [We] held them to 11 points and [then] they put 11 points on us really quick.”

Sides, a defensive-minded coach, emphasized the importance of Indiana’s defense as a catalyst for offense before Tuesday’s contest.

“We’ve got to let our defense give us some offense,” Sides said pregame. “We’ve got to get stops, we’ve got to get steals, and we got to hit deflections. And we’ve got to use that because of the way we play and our pace…get out and get some things happening on the offensive end because of our defense.”

The Fever forced the Sparks to cough up the ball 20 times and tallied 24 points off of turnovers, but capitalized on fastbreaks just four times, scoring 11 fastbreak points to the Sparks’ 12.

With a young team and a grueling schedule to begin the season, Indiana will look to continue to implement tougher schemes as players become acquainted with each other and the organization. Small defensive gems like Clark’s Tuesday night performance serve as glimmers of hope for the still-building team.

“Defensively we’re able to do things that we haven’t been able to do before,” coach Christie Sides said pregame. “We just didn’t feel comfortable, not having practices. So we’ve been able to add some different schemes to our defensive toolbag.”

The updated defensive approach from Indiana held Los Angeles to just 13 points in the second quarter, but couldn’t prevent the Sparks from catching fire from the 3-point line. Los Angeles made 14 of their 23 3-point shots, good for nearly 61% beyond the arc.

The Fever will have to dig deep to bounce back, however, as three contests remain before any significant downtime in their schedule.

Indiana will return to Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Thursday to take on Seattle in the season series’ second game before competing in back-to-back matchups on Saturday and Sunday in the WNBA’s Commissioner’s Cup.