Plaschke: Caitlin Clark brings the magic during her Hollywood debut

All night, bricks.

Then, boom.

All night, dreadful.

Then, dagger.

Caitlin Clark spent most of her first visit to Los Angeles stuck in terrible traffic Friday, stalling and swerving and slamming the brakes as her Indiana Fever team careened toward embarrassment.

Then, FasTrak.

She really is unreal. She really is magic.

With 2:27 remaining and the Fever clinging to a three-point lead against the Sparks at Arena, Clark nailed her first three-pointer of the night, a deep and looping trey.

She spread out her arms. She stuck out her tongue. The sold-out building shook.

Then with 40 seconds remaining and the Fever clutching a two-point lead, she did it again, draining a deep rainbow three to clinch a 78-73 victory, earn her first WNBA win and cement two priceless memories for those lucky enough to bear witness.

As Clark walked across the court after the final buzzer, the crowd continued to scream as if she was a rock star. When she later walked into the postgame news conference, she bore the swaggering smile of a baller.

In her sixth WNBA game, after five losses and countless struggles and heaps of criticism, the collegiate icon has perhaps rediscovered herself.

”Nights like tonight remind me of why I love playing basketball, why I started playing basketball,” Clark said. “Because you get a win and you walk off the court and there’s so many young kids just screaming your name and love getting to watch you.”

If you were wondering how a 22-year-old kid from Iowa became the most celebrated athlete in America, this is why. This was how. This was it.

This was what the roars are about. This is what 19,103 people came to see. This is what has pumped new life into a WNBA that is regularly setting attendance and viewership records. This is what has transformed women’s basketball everywhere.

Those two shots, forged from nine straight misses, nailed by a woman wearing Kobe Bryant shoes and determined to honor Kobe Bryant’s memory.

“Kobe’s the best, man,” she said. “That’s the mentality you have to have … you want those moments, you embrace those moments.”

For the longest time Friday, it seemed like those moments would again elude her. As the Sparks grabbed an 11-point halftime lead and continued to roll early in the fourth quarter, Clark was getting pushed all over the court by the likes of Sparks guard Layshia Clarendon and frequent Sparks double-teams.

You have to see the 6-foot Clark in person to realize the extent of her disadvantage. She’s small. She’s slight. It’s startling to watch this college giant get so easily smothered by the bigger and more aggressive WNBA veterans.

She made two of her first 12 shots. She showed off her incredible court vision with several pretty assists and she grabbed a bunch of rebounds, but the best part of her game was missing.

Then, just in time, the greatest scorer in college basketball history found herself.

“I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I seriously think every shot is going to go in,” Clark said. “I want to take those shots at the end of the game. It’s like a mindset and confidence you have to have about yourself.”

What does that confidence sound like? Listen to what she said after that first trey drained.

“I went to the bench after and I was like, ‘I was due. They had to go in, I had missed so many, it was time to go in,’” she said.

She finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and a cool compliment from the beneficiary of several of her passes.

“Katlin’s vision is second to none,” said Temi Fagbenle, who scored 17. “I love, I love love playing with her. I know I’m open, but I don’t know if she knows I’m open, then she knows and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, she knew!’”

All of which will perhaps convince critics to take a break from the incessant sniping that began with Clark’s 10-turnover debut.

The verdict that she was a bust — after only five games — was so pervasive that it ran her and teammate Aliyah Boston off social media. Many fans seemingly forgot that she was still a rookie, and that she played for a team so outmatched it had just earned the No. 1 draft pick during consecutive seasons.

“People don’t want to give us much grace,” Clark said. “They expect us to be world champions on Day 1. That’s not realistic. There’s a learning curve here.”

She’s been frequently crushed by that curve, yet she has continued to move gracefully beneath America’s hottest sports spotlight, taking every question, giving refreshing and honest interviews while never criticizing anyone but herself.

If you listen to her coach, those two Friday night shots will be remembered as just part of her inspiration.

“She’s handling it unbelievable. … She’s handling it with such poise. … She shows a level of maturity for a 22-year-old that is unbelievable. … She’s special, she’s different,” Fever coach Christie Sides said of Clark. “The bullets are just coming, every day … we’re scrutinized for everything.”

Clark admitted that the attention has been draining,

“Honestly, I feel like I talk to the media more than I get to talk to my own family, which is really kind of sad in a way,” she said. “It’s a lot for somebody who is 22 years old. It can be tough at times.”

And then, as another memorable Friday night in Hollywood proved, it can be wonderful.

“I was excited to come here and play in this place,” Caitlin Clark said. “Obviously there is so much history in this building.”

And now there’s more.

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