Caitlin Clark’s deep 3 buried the Sparks and earned the first win of the Fever

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

A sold-out, record-setting crowd in Los Angeles with Clark jerseys in both Fever colors and Iowa shades didn’t come to witness.

Clark had just five points and watched in frustration as all seven of his 3-point attempts went off the rim. Then, with 2:24 left in the game and the winless Indiana Fever clinging to a 3-point lead against the Los Angeles Sparks, Clarke crossed 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 it’s absolutely amazing, some nights you struggle to shoot it a little bit, but I like to take those shots at the end of the game. I think it’s the mentality and confidence you have to have about yourself.”

After a full game of uncharacteristic misses from the subconscious, Clarke’s first make brought up a familiar face.

She didn’t finish.

With less than a minute to go and the Fever now only two up, Clarke pulls up again, this time from 28 feet, and swishes. The No. 1 overall pick once again turned to the crowd with a smile and added a Michael Jordan-like shrug. The shot went on to win 78-73, giving Clark and Feaver their first win of the season.

“We were very close,” Fever head coach Christy Sides said. “We were quiet.”

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In a marquee matchup between Clarke and No. 2 seed Cameron Brink, Clarke will need every bit of her confidence. Friday’s game was his worst so far as a professional, but what he lacked in scoring, Clark made up for in every other aspect of his game.

“She hit some big shots, but she did everything she had to do,” Sides said. “She’s really focused on helping us, excelling defensively, and I’m really proud of her energy.”

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

But in the second half, Clark adjusted. She kept shooting and disappeared. A team high four steals.

Clark said postgame that despite the 0-5 start, he felt more comfortable in his last few games. He said it helped him remind himself that “it’s not about the score,” but how he can impact the game in other ways.

“I thought I played a good game [shooting],” Clark said. “Even though I was rebounding and finding my teammates, I thought I was very active on defense and didn’t let that bother me, which I’m really proud of.”

While Clark found ways to make his presence felt on an often off night, it was his teammates who carried the burden on the scoring front. Aaliyah Boston shot 50 percent from the field and scored 17 points, Kelsey Mitchell had 18 points and Demi Fogbenle added 17 points. Clark’s defense, along with the rest of the Fever’s efforts in that end, held the Sparks to 11 points in the third quarter.

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After the Fever erased the Spark’s 11-point halftime lead with an 11-0 run, the game went back-and-forth as both teams battled to keep a lead. As time wound down in the fourth quarter and the back-and-forth progressed, it became clear that Clark’s passing, defense and rebounding would not be enough. A win required her to do what she does best, and the crowd on hand had come to see her do it: score.

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

“To be honest, I went to the bench after I was like, ‘I’ve got to come in, they’ve got to go in,'” Clark said of his two late 3s. “I missed a lot throughout the game. It’s time for them to go in.”

In two moments, Clarke’s tough game was suddenly transformed into an early career highlight. As he fired the Los Angeles salute to the Los Angeles crowd, it was a reminder that even though he was playing in a new league, Clarke could 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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