Caitlin Clark plays supporting role in Fever's preseason win

May 9—INDIANAPOLIS — In just her second WNBA start, Caitlin Clark proved she doesn't need to make 3-pointers in bulk to help her team.

And the Indiana Fever proved it doesn't need the No. 1 overall draft pick to play a starring role every night.

Despite shooting 2-of-9 from beyond the arc, Clark finished with 12 points, a game-high eight rebounds and added six assists as the Fever beat the Atlanta Dream 83-80 on Thursday at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

It was the preseason finale for Indiana — which will open the regular season Tuesday at the Connecticut Sun — and the first home game as a professional for Clark.

She was hounded by a heavy press from Atlanta guard Allisha Gray throughout the night and often faced extra defenders running at her once the ball advanced beyond midcourt.

It's another reminder of the increased physical nature of the WNBA.

"I don't think it's something that you don't see in college. I just don't think you can get away with that in college," Clark said. "... I think it reminds me of international basketball a lot. People are physical, doesn't always get called. But that's how it is. That's just what you have to expect at this point."

Clark finished 4-of-12 overall and was one of four players in double figures for Indiana (1-1).

NaLyssa Smith got hot in the third quarter as the Fever pulled ahead for the first time and led all scorers with 21 points on 9-of-16 shooting. She added six rebounds and one blocked shot.

It's her second straight 20-point game, and she praised her new point guard for helping to open up the floor.

"A lot of people are gonna just focus on (Clark)," Smith said. "So it gives us opportunities just to show everybody you can score the ball. So I'm excited we've got a lot more years together."

Katie Lou Samuelson — making her Fever debut after missing the entire 2023 season following the birth of her daughter — added 11 points, two rebounds and three steals.

And last year's No. 1 overall draft pick, forward Aliyah Boston, finished with 11 points, four boards, four blocks, two assists and two steals.

It did not appear as though it would be a banner night for Indiana after a slow start found the hosts in a 20-8 hole following a Rhyne Howard jumper with 4:43 remaining in the first quarter.

But the Fever slowly chipped away at the deficit.

It was down to 30-24 at the end of the period, and a tip-in by rookie Celeste Taylor at the buzzer pulled Indiana within 49-48 at the half.

"I did not like the fact that we gave up 45 points in the first 15 minutes of the game, period," Fever head coach Christie Sides said. "That was transition defense. We gave up like 15 or 18 (points) in transition defense. That can not happen. We talk about it daily. It was A-No. 1 on our board, the top of the scout talk.

"It just can't happen, and I can't wait to be able to show them our lack of effort getting back in transition."

The recovery was swift.

Smith scored off a Clark assist 29 seconds into the third period to put the Fever in front for the first time, but the Dream (1-1) responded with a 7-0 run to regain control at 55-50 with 7:58 to play in the period.

From there, it was all Indiana.

The Fever regained the lead on a 3-pointer by Samuelson to make it 62-60 with 4:57 left in the period. Boston made the second of two free-throw attempts to extend the lead, and Temi Fagbenle scored a layup off a Boston assist to push the advantage to five points.

Clark's signature moment came on a 31-foot 3-pointer from the wing to extend Indiana's lead to 68-60 with 2:17 left in the quarter.

The Fever took a 70-66 edge into the final period and enjoyed its biggest lead at 79-70 on an 18-footer from Berger after a nice pump fake with 4:40 remaining.

Atlanta responded with a 6-0 run, raising concern Indiana might not be able to hold on for a second straight game after losing the preseason opener 79-76 last week against the Dallas Wings.

But Samuelson hit a pair of free throws to stop the bleeding with 2:41 left, and Smith scored on a tough drive through the lane to push the lead back to 83-76 with 1:27 left.

The Dream again responded with a 4-0 run and had a chance to tie the game with 19.1 seconds remaining. But Berger tipped a potential tying 3-point attempt, and the shot clock expired with .5 of a second remaining.

Indiana only had to inbound the ball to seal its first victory of 2024 and send the crowd of 13,028 home happy.

Howard led Atlanta with 13 points.

After the hot start, the Dream cooled off considerably. Atlanta shot just 35.9% (28-of-78) overall and was 7-of-16 from 3-point range.

Indiana shot 46.3% (31-of-67) overall and was 8-for-27 beyond the arc. The Fever were 13-of-19 at the free-throw line. Atlanta shot 17-of-19 from the charity stripe.

Berger, a former IU star, was 3-of-4 from the floor and finished with six points, a game-high seven assists, five rebounds and a steal in 19 minutes off the bench.

Fagbenle added eight points and six rebounds in 16 minutes, and Taylor scored six points and blocked two shots in 14 minutes.

Projected starters Erica Wheeler and Kelsey Mitchell did not play because of injury, and guard Damiris Dantas also was inactive for the game.

The Fever's first regular-season home game is May 16 against the New York Liberty.

"This is the challenge I signed up for, and I'm excited," Clark said of a stretch that will see Indiana play seven regular-season games in 12 days. "... Some nights are gonna be great. Some nights are going to be learning opportunities for myself and our entire group. So that's what makes it fun, but we're ready for it."