Caitlin Clark’s Indiana Fever debut began with an amusing rock-paper-scissors introduction duel with teammate Erica Wheeler. At halftime, with Indiana trailing by 10 points to the Connecticut Sun, Aliyah Boston locked her arm in Clark’s and talked to her the whole walk from the court to the locker room. At the buzzer, Clark ended with 20 and 10 — not points and assists — but turnovers. 

“Obviously, too many turnovers,” Clark said postgame. “That's not going to get the job done.” 

Caitlin Clark’s 20 points, shooting 5-for-15, were the second-most in an Indiana debut behind the great Tamika Catchings with 23 in 2002. Yet Clark’s 10 turnovers set the franchise’s single-game high. The Fever coughed up the ball 25 times to the Sun, which doomed their chances in their season opening 92-71 defeat. Connecticut’s DiJonai Carrington played unwelcoming defense at Clark. 

“They punched us in the mouth tonight,” Fever head coach Christie Sides said. “I wouldn’t say 20 points is keeping [Clark] down, but she can learn. DiJonai is an athletic guard and they had a gameplan against her. It’s going to take some time for [Clark] to figure that speed and quickness and physicality out. It’s something she’s not had. We tried to rep it… but it’s just not the same.” 

Two minutes before half, Carrington swiped the ball from Clark at midcourt, scored, and stood tall while shouting. The fourth-year Sun — and former first-round pick like Clark — had time to gloat. It forced an Indiana timeout, as the Fever were down by 15. Clark regrouped and sank her first WNBA 3-pointer 86 seconds later, as Kristy Wallace’s screen to Carrington gave room. 

But that sequence represented the whole opener: Clark got in foul trouble fast, the Fever got back to single digits in the third, but the Sun ran away with it. Connecticut is advertised as an incredibly physical team in the WNBA. The younger Fever played the part. Indiana forwards, Boston and NaLyssa Smith, combined for 17 points. They total three years in the league. The Sun’s DeWanna Bonner and Alyssa Thomas summed 33 points, totaling 24 years in the league. 

Clark, Smith, and backup center Temi Fagbenle were called for seven fouls in the first, too. 

Caitlin Clark and the Fever backcourt needs more time

Connecticut Sun guard DiJonai Carrington (21) drives the ball against Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) in the second half at Mohegan Sun Arena.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The backcourt situation isn’t identical. Connecticut’s Carrington and Tyasha Harris total seven years experience in the WNBA and each scored 16 points. Fever guards, Clark and Wheeler, total nine years. They combined for the lesser 28 points and 12 turnovers — primarily Clark in both categories. The caveat is, that was Clark’s debut. But it underlies bigger weaknesses for the Fever currently. They lacked another perimeter threat, which led to severe double-teams on Clark.  

Fever guard Kelsey Mitchell, the team’s leading scorer last season, can be that threat. But she didn’t start Tuesday night, as the six-year veteran is rehabbing from an ankle injury. She played about 17 minutes, scoring eight points on two made field goals. Mitchell only began practicing with the team last weekend and didn’t play in both of Indiana’s preseason games. Sides said it was obviously great to have her back, but naturally, it will take time for Mitchell to adjust back in. 

“We just got to get back to the drawing board, get back to figuring out how we can get those stops,” Sides said. “Like, if people are gonna guard us the way they did tonight, which if I was playing against us, I’d watch this video and guard us the same, we’ve just got to make sure we’re moving, we are getting off the basketball and we’re able to get the ball inside to [Boston].”

Tuesday brought lessons: namely, how to guard the Fever, and what they need to work on. As Sides mentioned, Indiana’s schedule seemingly won’t get easier moving forward. Sides, Clark and Smith acknowledged that they have to move on for the home opener Thursday. But Indiana does have to run the gauntlet of playing the New York Liberty two times and the Sun after that. Two of those next three games will be at home, but they’ll move fast — all in the next six days. 

“A lot of things to learn from,” Clark said. “I didn’t think we played well and we had cut it to six in the third quarter, so I think that’s a positive you look at… like we said in the locker room: we play on Thursday. You gotta learn from it, move on, and be ready to go… nobody likes to lose. Like, that's how it is. But I don't think you can beat yourself up too much about, you know, one game.” 

“I don't think that's going to help this team,” Clark added.