Caitlin Clark helps fuel Fever surge in comeback victory over Sparks

A record Sparks crowd of 19,103 packed into Arena to watch them and No. 2 draft pick Cameron Brink face the Indiana Fever and No. 1 pick Caitlin Clark on Friday night.

The electric atmosphere felt familiar for Sparks coach Curt Miller. It brought him back to 2015, when he was an assistant coach as the Sparks built up for their championship run the following year.

“This crowd is like back then, when they were poised to win championships and they had great teams and that rivalry in that era with Minnesota,” Miller said after the Sparks lost a 78-73 thriller. “I’m so excited to see the fan base back. I’m excited to see Crypto filled to the rafters, the third deck open. It’s just amazing for us and women’s basketball in general.”

The crowd seemed to hold its collective breath every time Clark touched the ball, waiting to see something — anything — amazing.

She contributed 11 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and three steals as the Fever (1-5) worked to overcome an 11-point halftime deficit. And then, after a rough shooting night, it happened.

After Rickea Jackson hit a huge three-pointer to cut the Sparks’ deficit to three in the fourth quarter, Clark took got the ball in transition and drained a wide-open three — her first of the night — as the L.A. crowd roared.

“I was excited to come here and play in this place, obviously so much history in this building,” Clark said. “The crowd was absolutely amazing.”

The Sparks’ rookies, Brink and Jackson, also hit big shots to keep the team within striking distance as time ran down, but Clark delivered a dagger, stepping back and hitting a three-pointer with 40 seconds left to help seal the Fever’s first win and hand the Sparks their third loss in four games.

“That third quarter really set the tone for the rest of the game. We got out-toughed at both ends of the court,” Miller said. “They just sped us up with their physicality and made it difficult for our wings. … So hats off to the physicality of Indiana and scrapping to that victory.”

The Sparks got off to a quick start thanks to the play of Dearica Hamby, who had 16 points, six rebounds and five assists in the first half as the team cruised to a comfortable lead at the break. Jackson and Brink weren’t far behind with seven and six points, respectively. Brink also chipped in six rebounds and a blocked shot.

Whatever was working for them in the first half however, was unsustainable. The Sparks turned the ball over 13 times in the second half. Hamby made two free throws in the closing seconds but otherwise was held scoreless in the second half, which she attributed to a combination of fatigue and frustration.

“That’s where I got to be better,” Hamby said. “I’m not used to being in this position to take that load, so that’s a learning adjustment that I’m going to have to take on. I can’t allow me not touching the ball to frustrate [me] and have lapses on defense. I’ll be better.”

Indiana stormed out of the gates to start the second half with a 9-0 run led by Kelsey Mitchell (18 points), Aliyah Boston (17 points, six rebounds), last season’s No.1 draft pick, and center Temi Fagbenle (17 points, six rebounds, three assists) to start the third quarter and tie the score.

“That’s a credit to Temi’s motor,” Miller said of Fagbenle’s performance. “Temi’s physicality and her rim running bothered us. We talked a lot about it going into the game … [she] really made things happen.”

Jackson got the lead back on a three, the Sparks’ first points of the second half, five minutes into the third. The rookies led the charge offensively, each making huge plays in crunch time. Jackson finished with 16 points and Brink 15.

“There was flashes for both of them to have really good nights,” Miller said. “Cam’s line, 15 and nine, and I think she could’ve been even more dominant. And then Rickea made some big baskets for us, so you see that potential. They’re going to be big for us all year, and I think both of them would say that they can play better.”

Jackson said she’s focused on how to convert early losses into wins.

“We didn’t get the win, so I’m not excited or ecstatic about that,” she said. “But I feel like we’re just going to keep growing and learn from our mistakes today.”

The Sparks host the Dallas Wings on Sunday before a rematch against Clark and the Fever in Indianapolis on Tuesday.

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