Caitlin Clark’s eventful fourth quarter in loss to Sun shows both her talent and room to grow

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Caitlin Clark’s Monday night nearly came to an early end when she rolled her ankle early in the second quarter, but she returned to play one of her best games yet. Still, it was not enough for the Indiana Fever to get their first win of the season as they fell to the Connecticut Sun, 88-84.

Clark finished the game with 17 points, three rebounds, five assists, two blocks and five turnovers on 5-of-11 shooting from the field. She did most of her damage in the fourth quarter, as she racked up seven points and five assists to help the Fever battle down to the wire. At the same time, she had some costly moments that showed just how much room she has to grow.

Here’s a look at the good and the bad from Clark’s busy final 10 minutes.

The good: Dynamic playmaking

Clark started the fourth quarter by assisting on three consecutive baskets for the Fever, and kept that approach the rest of the way. All five of her assists came in the frame, and she was unlucky not to add a few more. The most important of the bunch came in the final minute when she drew two off the pick-and-roll and hit Aliyah Boston with a perfect pocket pass for a game-tying bucket.

The first few games have been frustrating at times as Clark and her new teammates learn how to play with each other. When she gets into a groove, like she did in the fourth against the Sun, she makes life a million times easier for her teammates. Once those runs become commonplace, the Fever will start to pick up wins.

The bad: Lack of composure

Clark is a fierce competitor. While one of her best qualities, there are times when she crosses the line and loses her composure. At the college level, it often didn’t matter, as Iowa, especially in her later years, was almost always the better team.

With the Fever, it’s the complete opposite. They are one of the worst teams in the league and can ill-afford such outbursts. Late in the fourth quarter, with the Fever clinging to a narrow lead, Clark turned the ball over two possessions in a row. On the second play, she thought she was fouled by Alyssa Thomas and grabbed Tyasha Harris to stop the fastbreak. She was called for a transition take foul, then yelled at the ref and was hit with a technical.

The Sun only ended up scoring one point from the two free throws and extra possession, but that sequence must become a learning experience for Clark.

The good: Clutch shotmaking

A few minutes into the fourth quarter, the Fever finally got a chance to get out and run. Erica Wheeler led the charge, with Clark trailing behind her. Just inside halfcourt, Wheeler looked back and dropped off a pass to Clark, who pulled up from nearly 33 feet and caught nothing but net.

That was Clark at her best, and the fact that she gave the Fever the lead in the process only made the moment more exciting. In fact, all seven of Clark’s points in the fourth either tied the game or gave the Fever the lead. As we’ve known for many years, she is not afraid of the moment. And after a series of blowouts, it was fun to see Clark make some plays of consequence.

The bad: Defensive awareness

Clark has never been known for her defense, and, as expected, she has been exposed at times on that side of the ball through her first four games. It’s one thing when she’s overmatched physically, as there’s nothing she can do about that at this stage of her career.

But then there are other moments that have nothing to do with size. Take, for example, this play late in the fourth quarter  As the clock ticked towards two minutes, Clark was guarding Tyasha Harris, who gave the ball up to Alyssa Thomas, then got it back on a hand-off. For some reason, Clark went under the Thomas screen, and Harris buried a clutch 3-pointer to push the Sun’s lead up to four.

Harris is a career 37.8% shooter from downtown and was at 50% this season heading into Monday night. Clark has to be aware of that and fight over the screen. No one is immune from rookie mistakes, sure, but in these types of high-leverage moments, miscues like that at the pro level simply cannot happen.