Caitlin Clark is proving naysayers wrong. Rookie posts a double-double as Fever win

INDIANAPOLIS — The national narrative was relentless, relatively simple and, as it turns out, totally wrong.

It went something like this: The Indiana Fever were terrible. Caitlin Clark was struggling. The naysayers were right; the transition for the greatest scorer in major college basketball from Iowa to the WNBA was going to be arduous and ugly.

So what then should we make of this: The Fever won their fourth consecutive home game for the first time since 2015, when Aliyah Boston was a freshman in high school and Clark was in eighth grade. The team is 5-2 in June, 6-10 overall and would make the playoffs if the season ended today.

Clark, the 22-year-old phenom who is the nation’s most popular and definitely most discussed athlete — the one who is bringing crowds and eyeballs to the WNBA as no one ever has before — has found her comfort zone and is playing beautifully, following her best game Sunday against Chicago with another gem Wednesday night in Indiana’s 88-81 victory over lowly Washington before another sellout crowd of 17,274 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

Clark produced a very interesting double-double: 18 points and 12 rebounds. Yes, 12 rebounds. Had that happened before?

“In college I would get them sometimes,” Clark said.

As for Wednesday night, “I got off to a fast start there in the first quarter. Sometimes the ball just bounces your way a little bit more and a lot of times the people I’m guarding are getting back in defense so I have a little more free rein of going and chasing down the ball while our bigs are probably boxing out and hitting a little bit more.”

By grabbing those rebounds, Clark is able to do what she does best. “I think we’re really good when I can get it off the rim and push in transition,” she said, “so I take a lot of pride in trying to chase it down off the rim and then really go. I think that led to a lot of easy baskets for Aliyah at the beginning of the game or just all of us in transition. I think it’s a really good thing.”

Then she smiled. “But yeah, 12 is…don’t get used to it, that’s for sure.”

Clark continues to set historic league milestones that no one in league history has reached before her. The latest? She became the fastest player in WNBA history to reach 200 points, 75 rebounds and 75 assists. She did that in her first 15 games.

But what’s best about the high-wire act of Clark’s performances are the absolutely electric moments that can change the game in an instant. It happened at Iowa and it’s happening in Indiana, and it happened Wednesday night. With the game tied nearing halftime, Clark nailed her first 3-pointer of the night, a dagger from 29 feet. In Washington’s subsequent possession, Clark stole an errant Mystics pass and drove to the basket for an easy layup. It was five Clark points in 14 seconds, a lead that Indiana never relinquished.

But, but, but, some people will say. What about the nation’s interest in Clark’s turnovers? There were six Wednesday, and when she was asked about them in the post-game press conference, Clark was dutifully remembering them and going through each one when Boston, who scored 22 points, interrupted.

“You look at Caitlin and you look at the way she passes the ball and so sometimes things are going to happen that way and that’s okay because we’re not going to let her hang her head, we’re not going to hang our head off of any missed passes,” Boston said. “We’re still continuing to jell together and we know that she’s a great passer so she thinks she can get that ball there, she’s going to throw it and if I miss it, then we’re good, we’re all right, we’re good.”

This was a young team breathing a sigh of relief and taking a deep breath, with a little extra bounce in its step, and why not? Indiana endured a ridiculous murderer’s row start of 11 games in 20 days, six of which were against the WNBA’s top three teams — by far the most grueling opening schedule of any team in the league.

“We didn’t get to practice much and we are the most inexperienced team in the WNBA,” Clark said. “Now this group is starting to click and build some chemistry. Everybody loves instant satisfaction. Sure, we would have probably loved that too. But we all kept good perspective knowing we need to get better one step at a time.”

Said Fever head coach Christie Sides: “The youngest, least experienced team in the league, that schedule was tough, with no practice time. I keep saying it but just the way these guys keep showing up, I’m so proud of them because now they’re feeling what it should have felt like at the beginning for them.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Caitlin Clark, Indiana Fever win fourth straight at home