Liberty hold Caitlin Clark to season’s worst game in rout of Fever


Sandy Brondello felt that the Indiana Fever had started to figure everything out, that they made strides in the past two weeks since the pair of teams last met.

But it seems as if the Liberty have figured out Caitlin Clark and the Fever offense, too.

In their first meeting, it revolved around Betnijah Laney-Hamilton and her franchise-record plus-32 while containing Clark during her home opener.

Sabrina Ionescu #20 of the New York Liberty and Caitlin Clark at Barclays Center on Sunday night. Michelle Farsi/New York Post

Two days later, Clark flashed her potential with a 10-point first quarter and 22 points total.

But Sunday, when the Liberty and Fever met for the third time in less than three weeks, Clark was nearly eliminated altogether. 

She was held to a career-low three points before going back to the locker room in the fourth quarter and later returning to the bench as Laney-Hamilton and Kayla Thornton — the latter seeing increased minutes with backup center Nyara Sabally out — mostly split the task of guarding Clark.

Their ability to mitigate her impact allowed the Liberty to build a lead as large as 21 points in the first half en route to their 104-68 win at Barclays Center in a game that doubled as their Commissioner’s Cup opener.

Laney-Hamilton led the Liberty with 20 points, while Jonquel Jones collected 13 points and finished one rebound shy of a double-double in the first half before finishing with 18 and 13, respectively.

Breanna Stewart Michelle Farsi/New York Post

They shot 57 percent from the field, over 40 percent from the 3 and started to resemble the type of offense that propelled the run to the WNBA Finals last year by topping the century mark for the second time this season.

Clark’s lone basket came on a 3-pointer to start the second quarter, but that was it.

She shot 1-for-10 from the field and 1-for-7 from 3.

Late in the first half, she tried to quickly drive for a layup after the Liberty converted a basket and was blocked from behind. Then, she missed a transition layup with Ionescu chasing her down.

Instead, Clark became a facilitator for the Fever, dishing out five assists and watching as NaLyssa Smith and Kelsey Mitchell became their primary scorers. They helped the Fever pull within 12 points in the third quarter, but that deficit quickly ballooned again.

Sabrina Ionescu of the New York Liberty handles the ball during a game against the Fever on Sunday. Michelle Farsi/New York Post

This all unfolded less than 24 hours after the Fever’s game against the Chicago Sky included a twist of controversy when Chennedy Carter shoved Clark to the ground in the third quarter.

One day later, the league changed the call to a flagrant I. Carter refused to answer questions about the hard foul postgame and later posted about it on social media — writing on Instagram that she’d “rather you hate me.”

Fever coach Christie Sides commended Clark for how she handled the situation, for how she asked the official to review it and didn’t try to respond otherwise.

Clark attributed that response to the experience of teams defending her at Iowa, playing basketball with boys at the youth level and growing up with two brothers — “I’m definitely prepared for it,” she said pregame. 

Even Brondello called the play “probably inappropriate” and said “that’s not what we do.”

But the Fever struggled to channel the strides from what ended as a one-point win Saturday into anything that became a threat to the Liberty’s third consecutive win.

Laney-Hamilton’s 20 points, which tied her season-high, continued an offensive emergence dating back to late in the 2023 season, once her role on the superteam — surrounded by a collection of stars — came into focus and she became one of the Liberty’s most consistent scorers in the postseason.

So in plenty of ways, Sunday was déjà vu for the Liberty. It was déjà vu for the Fever — the latest reminder that it’ll take time for even Clark to adjust. But this time, the Liberty found a way to unveil the most effective blueprint yet for containing her.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *