Caitlin Clark Highlights In FIRST WNBA Home Game, Win vs Atlanta Dream | Indiana Fever.

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Raucous crowd roars its approval for Caitlin Clark in her home debut with Fever, an 83-80 win

INDIANAPOLIS — Caitlin Clark walked into her new home arena Thursday night with No. 22 shirts and jerseys peppered from floor to ceiling.

She left the building as a first-time WNBA winner.

A late-arriving but louder-than-usual crowd roared during her official introduction to Fever fans and again when Clark made her first basket, a layup with 7:00 left in the first quarter. The cheers grew when she completed a three-point play a few minutes later and hit a crescendo when she finally made a long 3-pointer from the edge of the fieldhouse logo late in the third quarter.

Yes, Clark successfully navigated the city’s most anticipated rookie debut since Peyton Manning played for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts in 1998 even though it wasn’t quite the start most anticipated. While the Fever won 83-80, Clark had 12 points, eight rebounds, six assists and six turnovers while going 4 of 12 from the field and 2 of 9 on 3s in 31 minutes.

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Afterward, Clark posed for a photo with former college teammate Gabbie Marshall.

Naturally, the Atlanta Dream challenged the league’s No. 1 overall draft pick with hard closeouts, defenders forcing the ball out of her hands and a physical style to get Clark off her spot.

The result: Clark missed her first two shots and her first four from 3-point range and her new teammates struggled to take advantage of her crisp passes into the paint, putting the Fever in an early 18-8 deficit.

But Clark helped rally the Fever from an early double-digit deficit and when she knocked down the long 3 with 2:17 left in the third, Indiana led 68-60. And through it all she was both a big hit and a welcome change for a franchise in search of a turnaround.

“People definitely know who I am,” she said before the game. “Sometimes it’s hard to go out and do what I want to do, but at the same time, I wouldn’t want it any other way. That’s the best way to grow women’s basketball. That’s the best way to get these fans excited about what we’re going to do here, so I think people they are just as excited as we are to play here. So I think more than anything, enjoy it, soak it in.”

Clark certainly took her own advice.

Why not?

Indiana opened the third deck of seating at Gainbridge Fieldhouse instead of covering it with curtains, and the attendance for Indiana’s only preseason home game was up — way up — from last year’s regular-season average of slightly more than 4,000 per game. The official crowd total was 13,028 and judging from the attire, most came to see Clark — even for a rescheduled contest.

Indiana was initially scheduled to play Friday but moved the game when the NBA announced the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks would play Game 3 of their best-of-seven series in that time slot.

Yet the WNBA’s No. 1 overall draft pick has generated more interest and attention in women’s basketball than most of her predecessors, giving her a platform few others possess and she’s taking full advantage of it.

Her presence, coupled with others in perhaps the most heralded rookie class in WNBA history, prompted league commissioner Cathy Engelbert to announce earlier this week she’s poised to spend $50 million on charter flights over the next two seasons.

Meanwhile, the curiosity surrounding Clark has some opponents moving games to larger venues to accommodate ticket sales and a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2016 will now have 36 of its 40 regular-season games appear on national television.

For Clark, playing in front of full arena has become the norm. For her teammates and coaches, this could be the start of something bigger than they could have imagined.

“This is what women’s basketball has always been about,” said Aliyah Boston, the WNBA’s 2023 rookie of the year. “I think it’s really great that fans are following their favorite players from college into the league because that’s the way we continue to grow.”

Especially when it comes to a generational-type player such as Clark, who has fully embraced her new home city.

“Honestly, I’m expecting a lot of people to be here, I’m expecting it to be loud, I’m expecting the fans to be really in it,” Clark said. “Like I know these fans are going to show up, and they know what’s going to be going on on the court. I think sometimes you can show up to arenas and they’re just sitting there. But like when I was in college, they were invested, they know what’s going on.

“I think it’s the same thing in the state of Indiana, people that support the Fever, that support the Pacers, they’re invested. So they’re going to cheer, they’re going to get after the refs.”