Caitlin Clark’s unselfish admission after Fever’s crunch-time hiccups vs. Sky

Caitlin Clark kicked off the fourth quarter with two deep 3-pointers but couldn’t finish as strongly.

CHICAGO — Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark drained her fourth and fifth 3-pointers only three minutes into Sunday’s fourth quarter at the Chicago Sky. Her 33-footer from outer space at the 9:41 mark put the Fever up by Eleven points. At 7:12, her 28-footer gave the Fever a 12-point lead.

The Fever’s fifth straight victory seemed certain with Clark taking and making these long-range shots in addition to having already provided 13 assists to set the franchise record. Clark then pulled the trigger. In the last seven minutes, the youngster made just one shot as the Sky defeated the Fever 20-7 to win 88-87. In the fourth, Clark did not register an assist either.

“I mean, sure, you can wish it,” Clark said afterward when asked about taking more shots late. “I’m sure there was an opportunity for me or two to probably attempt another shot there at the end. But I trust my teammates… I’m gonna give them the ball every time… I believe in them.”

After Clark’s firework first quarter in making two 3-pointers, she went into pass mode. The Sky switched Diamond DeSheilds onto Clark instead of Marina Mabrey, and it worked. DeSheilds posed more length and athleticism to get around screens and therefore threatened to tip Clark’s shots or at least contest them well. Clark didn’t score in the second but picked up six assists.

In spite of the lack of scoring, Clark’s value was unquestioned. She went on to pass for another six assists in the third quarter, while only shooting twice. It was her best passing performance of her WNBA career, three assists shy of the rookie record. Her court vision was outstanding. But despite Clark’s fiery triples to kick off the fourth quarter, she continued to opt for her teammates.

Shots that previously went in to balloon the Fever lead didn’t find the basket in the final quarter.

Christie Sides thought Caitlin Clark was going to take the shot

Indiana Fever head coach Christie Sides talks with guard Caitlin Clark (22) during the second half of a basketball game against the Chicago Sky at Wintrust Arena.

The Fever trailed by one point with 10 seconds. Caitlin Clark snatched the rebound and was picked up at midcourt in transition. She passed to teammate Kristy Wallace, and the angle for Wallace to the basket was cut off, so she went for the reverse layup. But it missed and went out of bounds. On the final play, Clark got doubled up top and passed to an open Aliyah Boston. It didn’t go in.

“I never want her to not be aggressive and take shots,” Sides said. “I really thought when she went out in transition after that missed free throw, I thought she was going to take it to the rim or pull up right there. That would’ve been a great shot for her, for our team. But I mean, we were up 15 at the end of the third quarter. We’ve got to do a better job of being able to finish out games.”

Where to strike the balance for Clark

Two games ago, Caitlin Clark had an efficient first half with great passes. In the second half, some of those passes were more dangerous and rushed. On Sunday night, Clark’s elite passing went unquestioned, but her look of shooting did bring up questions. Passing to Boston was surely the right play. Sides thinking Clark would take it herself the play before does speak volumes though.

Maybe it was right for Clark to take it. Or for her to shoot more in the fourth when she already made five triples beforehand. This implosion loss stings for the Fever. But just as they grew so much during the now-snapped four-game winning streak, Sunday could give lessons for Clark. Or— at least give the rookie point guard thought to be better equipped for these situations late.

To be fair, Clark wasn’t the most efficient to begin the season and has lately turned the corner in picking her spots, scoring opportunistically, while staying unselfish. It should not be overlooked. The reason for the winning streak was because Fever starters were all scoring efficiently. The questions only arise because Clark was known for being an incredible 3-point shooter in college.

Clark still is.

Yet she’s still less than halfway into her ROOKIE season. Back-to-back games where all facets of Clark’s game did not stay consistent for four quarters leave self-reflection and development. Passing for 13 assists and being questioned for not shooting more is the perfect case study. To add: Clark didn’t necessarily do anything poorly. The facet was not keeping up the aggressiveness. That’s tougher for point guards when three other teammates already scored in double figures.

It’s nothing to panic about.

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