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Caitlin Clark finishes one rebound shy of triple-double, leads Fever past Phoenix Mercury

The Phoenix Mercury took it down to the wire against Caitlin Clark and the Indiana Fever, but defensive lapses cost them in an 88-82 loss in front of a sellout crowd Sunday at Footprint Center.

Clark was just one rebound away from finishing with her first career triple-double, and the first-ever for a WNBA rookie, recording 15 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds on 39 minutes. Aliyah Boston led the Fever with 17 points.

Brittney Griner led all scorers with 24 points, while Diana Taurasi scored 19 points on 5-of-14 shooting.

“They took us out of our rhythm and we gave up 50 points in the second half, that’s not a recipe for winning games,” head coach Nate Tibbetts said. “They came out of the third quarter and played a little bit faster and we did not.”

The Mercury (9-9) held a one-point lead with 41 seconds remaining, but then gave up seven unanswered points to the Fever.

In a packed house with plenty of Clark jerseys, the Mercury did everything to simmer down the hype in the first half, during which Clark committed five turnovers and was limited to seven points.

Clark had only one turnover to go with eight assists after halftime.

Moving away from Friday’s rough start on defense, the Mercury held the Fever to an 0-for-5 start and went on a game-opening 8-0 run. From there, the Mercury never lost the lead and went into halftime leading 49-38.

The Mercury let their foot off the gas at the start of the second half, allowing a 17-0 run midway through the third quarter. The Fever’s 3-point shooting was abysmal in the first half (1-for-12), but Clark and Kelsey Mitchell started seeing more shots fall.

Clark hit a signature logo 3 to cut the Fever deficit to 53-48, and Mitchell knocked down back-to-back 3s for a 60-55 lead in the third quarter. Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) shoots over Phoenix Mercury guard Natasha Cloud (0) on June 30, 2024, at Footprint Center in Phoenix.

The Mercury regained some footing after Cloud earned some free throws and Taurasi rebounded the ball and converted a 3-pointer.

A Kahleah Copper layup had the Mercury up 76-69 with 4:21 remaining in the fourth quarter, but Clark helped lead Indiana on a 19-6 run to close the game.

“We just have to find that consistency over 40 minutes and we showed that we play at a high level,” Taurasi said. “It’s a work in progress, that’s what this season and this league is. We’re going to continue to build and get better and trust each other.”

Tempers flared at 4:48 in the second quarter when Mercury guard Natasha Cloud had to be restrained by head coach Nate Tibbetts and team security when she got into a heated argument with Fever forward Temi Fagbenle. Cloud, Fagbenle, Copper and Erica Wheeler all received technical fouls from the interaction.

The game continued to be chippy as NaLyssa Smith and Cloud both picked up flagrant fouls and the teams combined for 55 free throws.

The Mercury will have a short turnaround from Sunday’s loss before hosting the Connecticut Sun (14-4), the second-best team in the WNBA.

Caitlin Clark praises Diana Taurasi ahead of first matchup

Clark went from idolizing Taurasi to facing her on the court at Footprint Center.

The rookie listed the Mercury star as one of the players she grew up watching while getting into basketball during a pregame press conference ahead of her first game in Phoenix.

The 20-year age difference between the guards is the largest difference between two starting guards in the WNBA.

“She was probably one of the first women’s basketball players I grew up idolizing and knowing. Her, Sue (Bird, Maya (Moore),” Clark said. “That’s kind of my first memory of the WNBA in general was she was one of the first that I really knew about and supported and idolized and wanted to be like.

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

Taurasi, a six-time Olympian with 20 years of experience in the league, received backlash over her controversial warning for Clark ahead of this year’s WNBA season.

“Look, SVP, reality is coming,” Taurasi told SportsCenter’s Scott Van Pelt about Clark. “There’s levels to this thing. And that’s just life. We all went through it. You see it on the NBA side, and you’re going to see it on this side.

“You look superhuman playing against 18-year-olds, but you’re going to (be playing against) some grown women that have been playing professional basketball for a long time.”

Taurasi added that Clark would have a transition period and should give herself grace. Clark averages 16.2 points per game and is 16th in the league in scoring. She leads the league in turnovers with 106.