Caitlin Clark scores career-high, Indiana Fever show improvement, but fall to NY Liberty again

BROOKLYN, N.Y — The Indiana Fever dropped the second game of a home-and-home with the New York Liberty on Saturday afternoon, suffering a 91-80 loss at Barclays Center.

The Fever, who have played the Liberty twice in their first three games, fall to 0-3. Indiana will play Connecticut on Monday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in a rematch of the Fever’s season-opener.

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Here are three observations:

Kelsey Mitchell returns to the starting lineup, spurs cohesive first quarter

Seven-year veteran Kelsey Mitchell was in the starting lineup for the first time this season — she missed the entire preseason with an ankle injury, and came off the bench for the first two games. In those two games, the Fever struggled to find any offensive identity in nearly any part of their game.

But with Mitchell on the court in Brooklyn, the Fever seemed to find an identity for the first time this season.

Fever rookie and No. 1 pick Caitlin Clark opened the game running the offense, and Indiana went 4-for-4 from the field to start with three assists from Clark. The offense was running smoothly — Clark was finding her teammates in the paint, stymying the Liberty defense. It was the best first quarter the Fever have had this season, scoring 24 points. Clark herself scored 10 of those points.

That offensive identity fizzled out in the second quarter, though, as Clark started to play off the ball. The Fever only scored two points in the first five minutes of the quarter. Then, with Clark back running the offense, they scored 13 more for a 15-point quarter.

Fever have dismal perimeter defense

Whatever progress the Fever made on offense was negated by dismal perimeter defense.

Betnijah Laney-Hamilton and Jonquel Jones were left open at the 3-point line as part of the Fever’s zone defense, and paired with Sabrina Ionescu’s prowess beyond the arc, the Liberty went 7-of-9 from 3-point range in the first quarter alone.

New York’s entire starting lineup had at least one made 3-pointer by halftime, going 12-of-18 from beyond the arc — a franchise record in a half for the Liberty. Ionescu, who faked out Clark for one of her made 3s in the second quarter, was 4-of-7. The Fever, in contrast, had four made 3-pointers in the first half, with Clark contributing three of them.

The Liberty ended the game with every starter making multiple 3-pointers for the first time in WNBA regular season history.

Indiana shows promise on boards

When the Fever and Liberty first met at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Thursday, New York ended up taking 78 shots — 18 more than Indiana. That shot advantage, in some part, came from a 40-26 rebounding edge.

On Saturday, the Fever flipped that around — though they couldn’t take advantage of the extra shots. Through three quarters, Indiana attempted 63 shots compared to New York’s 48. The Liberty were much more efficient, though, as both teams had 24 made shots, and 14 of New York’s made shots were 3-pointers.

By the end of the game, Indiana took 16 more shots than New York and had a 35-31 rebounding edge. Still, the Liberty won by 11.

The Fever showed promise on the boards against one of the most veteran teams in the league. They just need to capitalize on those extra shots.

How many points did Caitlin Clark score?

Caitlin Clark scored a team-high 22 points, a new career-high for her in the WNBA. She got those points on 9-of-16 shooting (4-of-9 from 3) and added six rebounds and eight assists.

But she struggled to take care of the ball, turning it over eight times.

Follow IndyStar Fever Insider Chloe Peterson on X at @chloepeterson67.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Caitlin Clark scores career-high, Indiana Fever look better in NY loss