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Liberty ready for first glimpse of Caitlin Clark show during Indiana trip

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INDIANAPOLIS — At this time last season, in the first week of the WNBA campaign, the stakes were elevated — or as high as possible at that juncture of the calendar — for the Liberty in their second game.

They’d constructed a superteam and then lost the opener by 16 on the road.

Almost everything that could go wrong went awry.

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) reacts after missing a 3-point shot against the Connecticut Sun during the fourth quarter of a WNBA basketball game, Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Uncasville, Conn. AP

It was a disaster.

A concerning 40-minute stretch that made their next game, at Barclays Center against the Fever two days later, all the more important.

So while their 17-point victory over Indiana became an afterthought by the time their franchise-best regular season ended, May 21 marked the first win of the Liberty’s star-filled era and provided the first tangible glimpse at their ceiling.

Nearly one year later, everything has flipped for Thursday’s first Fever-Liberty matchup of the season.

Indiana altered the trajectory of its organization by selecting Caitlin Clark No. 1 overall in the WNBA draft but were crushed by 19 during Tuesday’s opener at the Connecticut Sun.

Indiana Fever guard Caitlin Clark (22) drives the ball against Connecticut Sun forward DeWanna Bonner (24) in the first quarter at Mohegan Sun Arena. David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Clark turned the ball over 10 times.

The flashes of her vintage shots and league-altering potential were accompanied by those miscues.

The stakes were already high for Thursday, when Clark and the Fever host the Liberty in their home opener at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

This is about Clark.

This is about the future of the WNBA.

The Liberty’s two-game road trip to start the season coincided with one of the most anticipated nights on the league’s 2024 slate.

And it now doubles as a rare night where Clark will be tasked with preventing her previous game’s struggles from materializing again.

“I think anytime you can have a home opener and have the support that we’ve had, like our preseason game was tremendous and now that we get to do it for real, I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun,” Clark said Tuesday. “It’s gonna be loud. We’re gonna need to use the environment to our advantage, and I think just learn and move on and get ready to play and embrace it and enjoy it, because it is special, too.”

The Fever tasted what the environment could resemble during their home preseason game, when 13,028 attended and shattered the organization’s previous record.

The same surge happened when Clark and Iowa played at Carver-Hawkeye Arena and traveled for road games.

When the Fever jetted to Uncasville and faced the Sun, the team sold 8,910 tickets for their first home-opener sellout since 2003.

Even though Clark led Indiana with 20 points, her turnovers — she committed 10 just three times in college — emerged as an early obstacle.

The broadcast captured Aliyah Boston, the Fever’s No. 1 overall pick in 2023, instructing Clark while walking off the court at halftime.

Indiana Fever react during the first quarter against the Connecticut Sun in the game at Mohegan Sun Arena on May 14, 2024 in Uncasville, Connecticut. Getty Images

That all added another layer to Thursday.

This time, the Liberty escaped with a win in their opener.

This time, their superteam roster that mostly remained the same will be just a footnote against the Fever.

It would’ve been a monumental game for the WNBA even if the Liberty weren’t the opponent.

“We have a team that has some new players in this league but have a lot of vets and have a lot of experience,” Liberty forward Breanna Stewart said Tuesday. “I think that it’s going to be a big game. It’s going to be their home opener and we’ll treat it like that, but we are going to be focused on ourselves.”

Breanna Stewart of the New York Liberty as they host an open practice and media day ahead of their 2024 season at Barclays Center. Michelle Farsi/New York Post

So it’ll be the superteam against the WNBA’s phenom.

It’ll be the Fever, looking for that foundational win every start to a new era needs, with more at stake.

It’ll be Clark looking to turn her turnover-filled debut into an anomaly.

For once, the Liberty and their quest for an elusive first title will cede the spotlight.

“It’s another game for us, to be honest,” Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu said Tuesday. “Like every single arena that we’re going into this year, and every single team that’s coming into ours is gonna be facing record-breaking crowds, and so it’s nothing really new to us.”

— Bridget Reilly contributed to this report

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