Caitlin Clark, surging Fever stun WNBA-best Liberty in big upset

Even after the miss, the Liberty had a chance. Sabrina Ionescu’s 3-point heave bounced off with 26 seconds left.

Betnijah Laney-Hamilton, whose 20 points helped them crawl back against the Fever in the first place, chased down the rebound.

But as Laney-Hamilton went to reset the offense for a shot at turning a one-point deficit into a late lead, the ball bounced off her foot.

It careened over the mid-court line for a backcourt violation.

The Fever made their free throws.

6 Sabrina Ionescu lost to the Fever on Saturday afternoon. Getty Images

The Liberty missed their final 3s.

And that, once the chaotic finish faded into a Gainbridge Fieldhouse celebration, secured Indiana’s statement win.

The Liberty, No. 1 in the standings, fell to the Fever — on the outside of the playoffs entering the game, now clinging to the final postseason spot — 83-78 on Saturday.

Caitlin Clark recorded the first triple-double by a rookie in WNBA history.

She assisted on Lexie Hull’s layup that served as the game-winning shot.

The Liberty tied their season-high with 42 3-point attempts and made just 10 of them.

6 Caitlin Clark made WNBA history on Saturday. Getty Images

Sandy Brondello had cautioned that the Fever were a more difficult challenge than earlier in the season, and she was right.

“This is their Super Bowl game,” said Ionescu, who led the Liberty with 22 points. “We’ve beaten them three times this year already. We knew they were gonna come into this game really hungry, and it’s tough to beat a team four times.”

In four meetings this season, the Liberty have witnessed plenty of Clark history.

They were the opponent for her home opener.

Two days later, they occupied the other bench as she finished with a career-high — at the time — 22 points.

And Saturday, in their final regular-season meeting, the Liberty allowed Clark to collect 19 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists.

6 Breanna Stewart #30 of the New York Liberty shoots the ball against forward NaLyssa Smith #1 of the Indiana Fever during the first half at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on July 6, 2024. Getty Images

The crowd gave her a standing ovation after she grabbed the 10th rebound in the fourth quarter. Teammates drenched her with water in the locker room.

“I honestly wasn’t too aware,” Clark said of the final rebound, “but I think everybody was a little confused as to why [fans] were going so nuts over a rebound. I mean, they can do that every time, I guess.”

Clark downplayed the record with a “really cool” descriptor.

She tried to distribute credit — 13 assists means someone had to make the 13 shots, in her eyes.

But Aliyah Boston (18 points, eight rebounds), sitting next to Clark in a press conference, wouldn’t let that happen, and Fever coach Christie Sides later reiterated that Clark is “gonna be my Rookie of the Year every day.”

6 Caitlin Clark of the Indiana Fever dribbles against Kennedy Burke. Getty Images

So that’s what this game will be remembered for.

Clark scored 11 points and dished out three assists in the first, opening with a 3 on the opening possession, and that helped give the Fever an early advantage as the Liberty’s deficit swelled to 12.

After winning the first three matchups against the Fever by a combined 83 points, and despite leading all of those by a combined 38 points after the first quarter, the Liberty didn’t jump ahead until the final three minutes of the half.

“I didn’t think we came out with the necessary urgency to compete,” Brondello said.

Eventually, the Liberty mitigated Clark’s scoring impact.

She went the entire third quarter without a point, Ionescu poured in nine and the Liberty grabbed a 62-55 lead.

6 New York Liberty’s Courtney Vandersloot (22) shoots over Indiana Fever’s Caitlin Clark. AP

But four days after closing a statement win of their own with a 15-2 run, the Liberty were outscored 15-3 across the final 4:21.

“Holding New York to 16 points in the fourth quarter, that’s huge for us,” Sides said. “That’s the No. 1 team in the league.”

The Liberty, for now, still possess a half-game lead over the Sun for the No. 1 spot.

6 Indiana Fever’s Caitlin Clark (22) makes a pass as New York Liberty’s Breanna Stewart (30) defends during the first half of a WNBA basketball game, Saturday, July 6, 2024, in Indianapolis. AP

There’s still nearly half of the regular season to play, including two games across the next 10 days — before the month-long pause for the Olympic break — against Connecticut.

But their mostly smooth season hit another roadblock.

Clark made some more history.

And that helped make an upset possible.

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