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Caitlin Clark makes WNBA history in Mystics’ win over the Fever


Caitlin Clark makes WNBA history in Mystics’ win over the Fever

INDIANAPOLIS — With only socks on her feet, Ariel Atkins casually walked across the court at Gainbridge Fieldhouse for her pregame media responsibilities Wednesday. Maybe the two-time WNBA all-star knew she would need to save as much tread as possible for game time.

The Washington Mystics leaned on Atkins, who essentially carried her team across the finish line as Caitlin Clark’s Indiana Fever mounted a furious comeback after trailing by 22 late in the third quarter. Atkins scored an efficient 26 points in the Mystics’ 89-84 victory, but many other things were necessary to keep the Fever at bay as Clark compiled an unprecedented stat line.

“Sometimes I don’t notice them all, to be honest with you,” Mystics Coach Eric Thibault said of Atkins’s contributions. “… She just saves a lot of plays. She’s a winner, man. She makes winning plays. She’s a champion. She’s a gold medalist. That’s why everybody in that locker room has so much respect for her.”

Those plays came throughout Wednesday’s game but especially in the fourth quarter. With just under a minute left and the Fever on a 14-0 run, Atkins hit a pull-up jumper from the elbow while falling down to put the Mystics up 87-82. Then, after two Clark free throws made it a three-point game again, Atkins sneaked in to steal a jump ball that had been won by Fever center Aliyah Boston. Atkins fell to the court with the ball to secure possession with 16.9 seconds left, and Julie Vanloo hit a pair of free throws to ice the win.

The Mystics (6-17) ended a two-game skid and have just two matchups left before next week’s All-Star Game and the ensuing Olympic break. They host Las Vegas on Sunday and Phoenix on Tuesday. The Mystics are 6-5 since losing a franchise-record 12 straight games to open the season.

“We’re figuring each other out,” Atkins said. “But also I think a big thing [is] … we’re actually listening, too. We can talk, but we’re also listening.”

Atkins had her fifth 20-point game of the season and fell three points shy of her season high. She also recorded three rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block.

“Just her aggressiveness,” Mystics center Stefanie Dolson said. “In general, she’s been doing a really good job of staying consistent. And even when she’s not scoring, she’s still doing that little stuff. But today especially, she did a really good job of finishing the plays, being the first one to a loose ball. In the end, she saved it for us. … And then defensively, she was incredible.”

Washington had turned in one of its most complete performances of the season through three quarters. The roster remains shorthanded with Brittney Sykes (foot), Shakira Austin (hip) and Karlie Samuelson (hand) still out. A flurry of turnovers led to an early hole for the Fever (9-14), which trailed 26-17 after the first quarter and 51-37 at halftime. For the game, Indiana’s 23 turnovers were the second most by a Mystics opponent this season, and Washington’s 23 points off turnovers fell three shy of a season high.

The Mystics’ offense operated at an efficient clip early with 11 assists on 12 first-quarter baskets and generated back-cut layups all afternoon.

Dolson finished with 13 points, six assists and five rebounds, while Vanloo — who irritated fellow rookie Clark to the point that Vanloo was the recipient of a two-handed shove — added another 13 points. Aaliyah Edwards put up 12 points and six rebounds off the bench, and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough continued her strong play as a reserve with 10 points and threw a pretty alley-oop to Dolson over Clark for a three-point play.

“When we play our offense with a really good pace and speed, it can catch guards, especially, off balance,” Dolson said. “… So anytime they’re cutting, I’m looking.”

Clark got loose for 29 points (including five threes), 13 assists, five rebounds, five steals and three blocked shots. She became the first player in WNBA history with 25-plus points, 10-plus assists, five-plus rebounds, five-plus steals and five-plus three-pointers. She dragged the Fever back within a possession in the final minute as the Mystics started to have their own ball security issues, but Indiana couldn’t complete the rally.

The Mystics kept the rest of the Fever relatively in check. Kelsey Mitchell had 15 points, and NaLyssa Smith chipped in 11 off the bench. Dolson and Edwards didn’t let Boston, the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft, get going. She managed just six points to go with five turnovers and five fouls.

We played with good force, and we made them feel us,” Thibault said. “Thought we were disciplined in our coverages against not just Caitlin but everybody down the line.

Everybody was just locked in and involved in kind of knowing what they do well.”

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