13K-plus watch Caitlin Clark win preseason home Fever debut

13K-plus watch Caitlin Clark win preseason home Fever debut

INDIANAPOLIS — Player introductions at a WNBA preseason game do not typically elicit thunderous cheers from the assembled crowd.

But nothing about the home-court debut of Indiana Fever rookie and No. 1 overall draft pick Caitlin Clark can be considered typical.

Clark, the former University of Iowa phenom who has taken the sports world by storm, made her first appearance at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Thursday night and received exactly the kind of reception one would expect given the interest she has generated around the country.

13K-plus watch Caitlin Clark win preseason home Fever debut

From the many fans donning No. 22 jerseys (both from Iowa and the Fever) to the rousing cheers the crowd produced each time Clark scored or reentered the game, the atmosphere in the building suggested this was a meaningful game against the Atlanta Dream, even if it didn’t count in the standings.

“It was a lot of fun, I thought they were loud, I thought they were into it,” Clark said, marveling at the crowd size. “It was fun to see.

“This is a preseason game on a Thursday night and there’s 13,000 people here. I think that just shows what it’s going to be like for us all season, and it’s going to help us. There are going to be games at home that you’re going to need to win. So, I’m excited for our home opener. I think it’s going to be a packed house, obviously, versus a really great team [the New York Liberty]. It’s pretty incredible.

“Thirteen thousand at a preseason game is pretty unheard of.”

13K-plus watch Caitlin Clark win preseason home Fever debut

Clark had a tough shooting night, finishing 4-of-12 from the field and 2-of-9 on 3s. She scored 12 points with 8 rebounds and 6 assists while facing physical defense and, at times, double-teams.

Still, the environment was such that it also captured the attention of Fever coach Christie Sides, who admitted to getting wrapped up in the moment even while trying to guide and evaluate her team.

“I don’t remember a crowd like that all last year,” she said. “It creates a vibe in there. It just changes. These are exhibition games and we’re trying to figure out our team and figure out how to play, but you get caught up in the moment. You get caught up in a home crowd.”

Officially, the attendance came in at 13,028 — nearly three times larger than the slightly more than 4,000 per game Indiana averaged for its 20 regular-season home contests in 2023. Afterward, Clark found close friend and former college teammate Gabbie Marshall, and the two took a photo together.

13K-plus watch Caitlin Clark win preseason home Fever debut

Most of the fans came to see Clark — even for a rescheduled contest.

Indiana was initially scheduled to play Friday but moved the game when the NBA announced that the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks would play Game 3 of their best-of-seven series in that time slot.

For Clark, it has been a quick transition from playing college ball a month ago to the pro style. And this game didn’t come with as much pomp and circumstance as might have been expected.

Clark went through her pregame warmups quietly and focused as music blared and the stands started filling up. But once the game started, Clark & Co. were all business.

“I don’t think I was that effective, honestly,” Clark said. “I thought more than anything I did a really good job of passing the ball, finding my teammates. Obviously, I would have liked to have made a couple more 3s, but sometimes that’s how you shoot it.”

13K-plus watch Caitlin Clark win preseason home Fever debut

The fault didn’t fall entirely on Clark’s shoulders.

Opponents are naturally game-planning to slow down the top scorer in NCAA Division I history. Atlanta’s ploy was to challenge Clark with hard closeouts, multiple defenders forcing the ball out of her hands and physical play intended to get her off her spot.

The result: Clark struggled early as the Fever fell behind, and her teammates struggled to convert her crisp passes into points. But they also got a glimpse into what this season could be.

“She pushes the pace for us, she gets the ball where it needs to be, if you run the floor you’ve got to look up because the ball is coming,” said NaLyssa Smith, who had a game-high 21 points. “She can spread the floor, everybody can score and she’s looking to pass the ball.”

By STEPHEN HOLDER/ESPN

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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