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Angel Reese Is Not, In Fact, Too Small

Angel Reese #5 of the Chicago Sky and NaLyssa Smith #1 of the Indiana Fever react during the second half on June 23, 2024 at Wintrust Arena in Chicago, Illinois.
Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

If Sunday's game between the Indiana Fever and Chicago Sky—the third time these teams have met this season—was meant to enrich and enliven the unacknowledged but rather obvious rivalry between Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese, then both players produced the necessary performances. Clark finished the game with 17 points and 13 assists on 5-of-11 shooting, but was overshadowed by Reese's 25 points and 16 rebounds on 8-of-12 shooting. The Sky won the game 88-87, and by the end it wasn't Clark who was co-starring in Angel Reese's show, but NaLyssa Smith. Chalk it up to Reese's hard-nosed game and sense for showmanship: She can make a worthy antagonist out of anyone, on the fly.

There are a lot of things to like about Smith. The 23-year-old forward has a smoothness to her game that, when combined with her 6-foot-4 frame, can produce moments in which it feels like she's the most talented player on the floor. She's also a pretty good shit-talker, which is the skill that was primarily on display in Sunday's game. Her 12 points and seven rebounds were solid contributions, but where she really shined was during her conversations with Reese, which ran on throughout the entire course of the game and generally centered on topics such as who should and should not be fucking with whom. Both players seemed to enjoy this quite a bit, and at one point teamed up to tell a meddlesome referee to scram so that the conversation could continue.

Smith is not is a very good defender, nor is she much of a bruiser inside. Reese must have come to this conclusion herself at some point during previous matchups, because she spent as much time as she could on Sunday sealing Smith in the post and then putting her in the trash. Reese took all 12 of her shots at the rim, and I wouldn't be surprised if Smith went home with her arms and chest covered in bruises.

If Smith were a meeker player, she might have reached the fourth quarter feeling slightly chastened, or at least hesitant to invite any more punishment from Reese. Smith wasn't feeling meek, however, especially when she hit a turnaround jumper over Reese that put the Fever up 82-70 with 6:38 left to play. As soon as the ball went through the hoop, Smith let Reese know what she thought about her stature:

NaLyssa Smith #1 of the Indiana Fever reacts after scoring a basket over Angel Reese #5 of the Chicago Sky during the second half against the Chicago Sky on June 23, 2024 at Wintrust Arena in Chicago, Illinois.
Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

That turned out to be a bad idea, because on the very next possession Reese isolated against Smith above the break, drove past her, and made a righty layup while also drawing the foul. With five minutes to go, Reese scored on an easy pick-and-roll to make it 82-77; a few possessions later she snatched an offensive rebound off the top of Smith's head and drew a foul while finishing the putback. Reese made the free throw and tied the game at 82. With under a minute to play, Reese put her finishing touch on the game by once again pinning Smith to her back, going straight through her, and scoring a lefty layup that put the Sky up 86-84. That one forced play-by-play guy Ryan Ruocco to declare, "NaLyssa Smith has had no answer for Angel Reese!"

"I didn't even see it," said Reese when she was asked after the game about Smith's "too small" gesture. "My teammates had to tell me about that. I didn't even know she did that, that's crazy. But me and NaLyssa have been competing against each other since I was at Maryland and she was at Baylor. It's nothing, no hard feelings, me and NaLyssa are just two great competitors." As Reese delivered this answer from the postgame dais, she did so with a big smile on her face. Twenty-five points, 16 rebounds, and 40 minutes of shit-talking—it's hard to imagine Reese having much more fun than that.

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