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Caitlin Clark And The Fever Are Going Through It

Chicago Sky guard Chennedy Carter (7) is whistled for a flagrant foul for knocking Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) to the ground on June 1, 2024, at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Caitlin Clark played the 10th game of her WNBA career on Saturday, which ended with her Indiana Fever barely holding onto a 71-70 win over the Chicago Sky. Clark scored 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting, and the fact that those numbers do not represent the worst performance of her professional career tells you just about all you need to know about how Clark's rookie year has started.

Clark's averaging 17 points, five rebounds, and six assists through her first 10 games, but quite a bit of the shine comes off those numbers when you put them next to these: 37 percent from the field, 31 percent from three-point range, and 5.6 turnovers per game. Clark's looked more like she did at Iowa recently, scoring 30 against the Sparks and 20 against the Storm in consecutive games, and for a moment it looked like Saturday's game would continue the trend. Clark hit her first two shots of the game—signature threes from 28 and 30 feet—but then proceeded to go 2-of-9 the rest of the way.

It's hard to say anything about Clark's first 10 games without talking about exhaustion. Clark played her final game as a Hawkeye on April 7 and her first game as a member of the Fever on May 14, kicking off a hellish run of games that almost seems specifically designed to break a rookie. When the Fever tip off against the Liberty tonight, they will be playing their 11th game in 20 days. It will be their third game against the Liberty, after having also played the Sun twice and the Aces once. Under these circumstances, the Fever's 2-8 record and Clark's mildly gruesome statistics look less like a disaster and more like a young team making the best of a particularly difficult situation.

The exhaustion hasn't been confined to the court. Clark's profile is such that it's impossible not to be routinely confronted by people who choose to talk about her by saying some of the stupidest shit you've ever heard. Charles Barkley lolling his head towards the Inside The NBA cameras in order to deliver a sour, drowsy PSA to all the "petty girls" who should be "thanking that girl for getting y'all ass private charters" was a low point, but he was just following LeBron James's lead. The identities of these petty haters and the specifics of what they should or shouldn't be doing are never spelled out in this ongoing conversation, but that doesn't really matter. Even the most rickety of assertions, if delivered often enough and with enough fervor, can start speaking things into existence.

On Saturday, Chicago Sky guard Chennedy Carter eagerly stepped into the reality that others have been busy creating. After hitting a jumper late in the third quarter to cut the Fever's lead to four, Carter shouted "You a bitch!" at Clark and then shoulder-checked her while the ball was being inbounded.

When asked about the incident after the game, all Carter had to say was, "I ain't answering no Caitlin Clark questions."

Carter's foul will inevitably be held up as evidence that Clark is being specifically targeted by embittered opponents, but Carter's never been the kind of player who has needed a special reason to menace anyone. Drafted No. 4 overall by the Atlanta Dream in 2020, Carter finished second in Rookie of the Year voting by scoring 17 points per game. The following year, she only played 11 games and was suspended indefinitely by the team for refusing to play in the second half of a game and reportedly requesting to fight one of her teammates. Carter was traded to L.A. the following offseason, but only started two games for the Sparks before spending the entirety of the 2023 season playing overseas. In the summer of 2023, Sean Hurd at Andscape published a piece about Carter's attempts to get back into the WNBA. That story recasts Carter taking a cheap shot at a No. 1 overall pick as one of the least surprising developments of the current season:

[Nicki] Collen recalled a game in 2020 during Carter’s rookie year with the Dream, who were readying to take the floor against the New York Liberty and guard Sabrina Ionescu, the 2020 No. 1 overall pick.

Before the announcement of starting lineups, Collen pulled Carter aside.

“I said, look, this is Atlanta against New York. This is not Sabrina against Chennedy. That’s got to be the mentality,” Collen said. “That doesn’t mean I don’t want you to compete and I don’t want you to believe you’re the better player, but we want to win this basketball game.”

Andscape

Clark is in the unenviable position of having everything she does or says be treated as a referendum on her sport, but that burden extends to others who enter her orbit. Carter did what she's always done on Saturday, but she did it to Caitlin Clark, and now she is in line to be the face of the "frosty" reception that Clark was predicted by some to receive upon entering the league. She doesn't seem to have a problem with that:

A tweet from Chennedy Carter that says "troll notifications blowing up. I love it."

There are other things to look forward to, though. Carter scored 19 points on Saturday, and seems to have regained her foothold in the league as an electric scorer off the bench. The Fever, meanwhile, gutted out a win despite every player being noticeably stricken with fatigue. NaLyssa Smith scored 17 points and showed off some developing pick-and-roll chemistry with Clark, Aliyah Boston made clutch plays on both ends of the court, and Clark, despite her shooting struggles, had her team humming when she pushed the pace and threw her patented hit-ahead passes. The Fever and the Sky will play again on June 16; both teams will have plenty of time to give us new things to talk about before then.

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