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Monday, June 17, 2024

Clark’s WNBA home debut spoiled, Liberty win 102-66

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The New York Liberty defeated the Indiana Fever 102-66 on May 16 in front of a sellout crowd at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis. Reigning MVP Breanna Stewart led the charge against Indiana, tallying up 31 points and ten rebounds.

Fever head coach Christie Sides spoke after the game about letting the packed house down.

“We had 17,000 fans here tonight and we can’t thank them enough. We have to make the fans proud of what we put on the floor,” Sides said. “We didn’t do that tonight and that is unacceptable.”

Fever rookie Caitlin Clark also spoke about how people are taking time off to travel to see her play.

“People are sacrificing a lot to spend money, resources to get here or travel or pay for their young daughter or son … I understand it because I was that young girl and my parents did that, too,” Clark said before the start of the game.

The court floor looked different compared to last year, as Cheez-It, the first official snack sponsor of the Indiana Fever, decked out the hardwood.

Cheez-It is now the first official snack of the Indiana Fever. (Photo provided/Cheez-It)

“With our roots in college football where fanfare knows no bounds, we strategically set our sights on basketball to double down on the sports-and-snacking occasion and – most importantly – celebrate these absurdly talented athletes,” senior brand director Cara Tragseiler said. “We are proud to join the Fever fandom as the team’s first official snack partner.”

The Fever ignited the fuse with a strong start led by forward Katie Lou Samuelson’s eight points. Samuelson found her rhythm early, knocking down three-pointers and energizing the electric crowd.

More Indiana Fever News: Fever defeat Dream 83-80

However, the Liberty, fueled by forward Stewart and guard Sabrina Ionescu, responded. Stewart showcased her versatility, scoring inside and out, while Ionescu facilitated the offense.

Rookie of the Year Aliyah Boston got into a shoving match with 2021 MVP Jonquel Jones early in the contest, which virtually set a physical and defensive tone for the remainder of the game.

Despite the Fever’s early spark, the Liberty’s experience and depth began to take a toll on the home team, and they edged ahead by the end of the frame.

Indiana Fever forward Aliyah Boston (7) gets into verbal altercation with New York Liberty forward Jonquel Jones during the home opener at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on May 16, 2024. (Photo/Darnell Scott)
Indiana Fever forward Aliyah Boston (7) gets into verbal altercation with New York Liberty forward Jonquel Jones as NaLyssa Smith (1) and Breanna Stewart (30) attempt to defuse the situation during the first quarter of the home opener at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on May 16, 2024. (Photo/Darnell Scott)

The Liberty seized control in the second frame, establishing authority on both sides of the floor. Stewart continued her offensive onslaught, proving unstoppable both in the paint and from range. New York’s suffocating defense forced turnovers.

The Fever struggled to maintain their offensive flow, with Clark adjusting to the pace of her first-ever regular season WNBA game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. By halftime, the Liberty had built a commanding 48-31 lead.

The Liberty showed no signs of slowing down in the third quarter, extending their lead with a relentless offensive attack. Jones made her presence felt in the paint, while veteran point guard Courtney Vandersloot orchestrated the offense.

Although the Fever’s stars Boston and Clark displayed flashes of potential, they did not match the Liberty’s firepower.

The Liberty cruised to victory. The Fever, despite their efforts, couldn’t close the gap as the Liberty’s bench maintained the team’s intensity.

Indiana focused on gaining valuable experience for their young core, with players like Boston and Clark showcasing promise. Despite this, the Liberty’s dominant performance from start to finish secured a decisive win in their season opener.

Indiana Fever rookie Caitlin Clark (22) brings the ball up against New York Liberty guard Betnijah Laney-Hamilton (44) during the Indiana Fever WNBA regular season home opener at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis on May 16, 2024. (Photo/Darnell Scott)
Indiana Fever rookie Caitlin Clark (22) brings the ball up against New York Liberty guard Betnijah Laney-Hamilton (44) during the Indiana Fever WNBA regular season home opener at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis on May 16, 2024. (Photo/Darnell Scott)

Boston delivered a solid performance, registering 12 points and 7 rebounds. Samuelson provided an early scoring spark for the Fever with ten points, while Clark had an impressive home debut, contributing nine points, seven rebounds and six assists, showcasing her adaptability to the league.

Liberty guard Betnijah Laney-Hamilton, often recognized as a premier defender in the league, had the assignment of guarding Clark.

Ultimately, Laney-Hamilton netted a +43 box score, the best in the franchise’s history.

Boston spoke about the short turnaround time and hectic schedule the Fever are up against this season following the contest.

“You just have to do what you have to do to recover and take the time when you get it … We just have to be ready and recover,” Boston said.

The Fever’s next game is in New York, again taking on the Liberty at 1 p.m. May 18.

Contact multi-media & senior sports reporter Noral Parham III at (317)-762-7846. Follow him on Twitter @3Noral.

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