Caitlin Clark Destroying her defender and electricfying logo shot against Phoenix Mercury.

Caitlin Clark Passes Diana Taurasi’s Test in Phoenix

The Fever rookie delivered in her first game on Taurasi’s turf, even (finally) drawing high praise from the Mercury veteran.

More worthy than Diana, Plum & Griner" - WNBA fans hail Caitlin Clark for  outdueling Diana Taurasi in comeback game vs Mercury

“It’s amazing what Caitlin’s been able to do in her short career,” Taurasi said after the Fever’s win over the Mercury. “So far, just been nothing short of remarkable.”

As much that is out there about Caitlin Clark phenomena, about the record attendance numbers and skyrocketing television ratings, about the flashy passing and limitless three-point range, you have to experience it in person to truly understand. There is a rare collection of stars in sports that just have it. LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Shohei Ohtani and Patrick Mahomes. After four years of college basketball and a handful of games in the pros, it’s clear that Clark is one of them.

On Sunday, Clark was in Phoenix, the latest stop in her WNBA rookie tour. Hundreds of fans in Clark jerseys—some from Iowa, some from Indiana—walked the concourse while thousands more filled the seats. The roars picked up when Clark was introduced and were deafening when her first three-point shot—a running 29-footer from the Phoenix Mercury logo—dropped in. This was a home game for the Mercury but let’s be honest: Most of the 17,071 in attendance bought tickets to see the Indiana Fever star play.

There was a big-game feel inside Footprint Center, and as regular-season matchups go it was one. Neither Indiana (8–12) or Phoenix (9–9) is a title contender—not yet, anyway—but that didn’t matter. Basketball is a team sport but its popularity is built around individuals. It was Fever vs. Mercury but really it was Clark vs. Diana Taurasi, the greatest women’s basketball player of all time vs. the woman who could someday supplant her.

And the game delivered. Six lead changes, four ties. The Mercury led by as many as 15 in the first half. In the third quarter the Fever got their lead as high as 10. Taurasi scored 19 points. Clark collected 15. While Clark’s shot (4–14) wasn’t falling she made an impact with her playmaking (12 assists) and on the glass (nine rebounds), playing nearly the full 40 minutes while battling an illness that kept her from addressing reporters after the game. In the fourth quarter, with Indiana clinging to a one-point lead, Clark knocked down two free throws with 19 seconds left to seal a win for the Fever.

Caitlin Clark's near triple-double wins over WNBA legend Diana Taurasi -  Los Angeles Times

“It’s amazing what Caitlin’s been able to do in her short career,” said Taurasi. “So far, just been nothing short of remarkable.”

Taurasi sparked a social media stir last week, answering a question about facing Clark with a terse, “Yeah, it will be fun.” The veteran had a similarly chilly warning for Clark back in April before the NCAA title game, telling ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, “Reality is coming. You look superhuman playing against some 18-year-olds but you’re going to come play with some grown women that have been playing professional basketball for a long time.” Though the league’s spike in popularity has everything to do with Clark Clark, she hasn’t exactly been welcomed with open arms. And as she prepared for a Tuarasi-led Mercury team, it was fair to wonder if she would face more of the same.

Instead, there was nothing but smiles between two of women’s basketball’s most recognizable faces. They hugged before the game, exchanging a laugh before the opening tip. In the first half they met near center court during a break in the action, talking for over a minute before play resumed. And as little as Taurasi had to say about Clark before the game, she had plenty to say after.

“The one thing that I really love about her, she loves the game,” said Taurasi. “You can tell she’s put the work in. And even throughout her short WNBA career, it’s been a lot of pressure, a lot of things thrown at her, and she keeps showing up and keeps getting better every single game.”

There is pressure but make no mistake, Clark was built for this. At 22, she has the maturity of a decades-long pro, batting away loaded questions as effortlessly as she does jump shots. Knocked down by Chennedy Carter? “Basketball’s competitive,” said Clark. Left off the U.S. Olympic team? “Just gives you something to work for,” Clark said. Ahead of Clark being drafted, Taurasi said she was in for a reality check. Before Sunday’s game, Clark referred to Taurasi as one of her idols.

“I just admired the way she played the game and the fire that she played with,” said Clark. “It’s impressive that she’s still able to play this game at such a high level and produce the way she does. It’s incredible. I think she’s obviously the best scorer our game has ever seen and one of the best players our game has ever seen.”

Taurasi, 42, has a two-decade head start on Clark but it may not be long before she’s chasing those labels. Clark’s shooting gets the attention but her playmaking sets her apart. Slip passes, bounce passes, long leads up the floor; she’s Pete Maravich with a ponytail. Clark averages 5.6 turnovers per game but many of them have bounced off the hands of teammates that don’t see them coming.

“You just have to be ready,” said Fever forward Aliyah Boston. “And I think sometimes too when she’s getting blitzed as much as she does, she’ll find a way to [make] the passes. So just making sure that we’re in her spaces and then especially in transition, she’s looking to get the ball out, looking to push, and so we just have to keep running.”

Caitlin Clark didn’t build the WNBA but Sunday’s game is further evidence that she is supercharging it. The foundation that was laid by Taurasi and Tamika Catchings, Cynthia Cooper and Maya Moore now has the kind of shooter the women’s game has never seen to add on to it. Just like Curry spawned a generation of long-range shooters in the men’s game, Clark can do the same for the women.

“What she’s done nationally for the game has been pretty incredible,” said Taurasi. “Her future is super bright. Being a veteran and being in this league for a long, long time, it’s pretty cool to see that and going into the future.”

Indeed. As Clark finished a postgame interview thousands of fans stuck around to cheer her off the floor. She smiled, waved and signed a few autographs before disappearing down a tunnel. The trip to Phoenix was a success. Another city is waiting.