Caitlin Clark  [600x400]
Caitlin Clark [600x400] (Credit: Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire)

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INDIANAPOLIS -- As if the massive expectations and brutal opening schedule weren't significant enough challenges for Caitlin Clark to confront at the start of her WNBA career, she faced another culprit Monday night: her left ankle.

The Indiana Fever rookie and No. 1 draft pick, who has been the subject of unrelenting defensive focus while transitioning to the pro game, rolled her ankle in the second quarter of the Fever's 88-84 loss to the Connecticut Sun, an injury that left Clark sprawled on the court and clutching her ankle in pain.

Clark was unable to get to her feet unassisted and limped to the locker room immediately after being helped up. A sellout home crowd at Gainbridge Fieldhouse fell silent as Clark's teammates surrounded her. Meanwhile, her coach held her breath.

"I was worried," Indiana's Christie Sides said. "A lot."

It was the latest in a series of obstacles Clark has dealt with to start her highly anticipated rookie season. But just as Clark has managed to keep her composure in the face of other challenges, she similarly shook off the ankle injury, returning for the second half to key a late run that positioned the Fever (0-4) to nearly pull off an upset for what would have been their first win. 

"Every basketball player's had an ankle injury," Clark said, downplaying the injury after her 17-point, five-assist effort. "If you [haven't], you're not a true baller, I guess. I don't know. It'll be a little stiff, but I'll be good."

The Fever now have a pair of losses to both the Sun and New York Liberty, experienced teams that are a combined 7-0. The losses are mounting and so, too, is some frustration. But Monday's game was Indiana's most competitive performance to date, and Clark's contributions went a long way toward making things interesting in the final quarter.

She buried a 33-foot 3-pointer with 7:17 left that gave the Fever a 70-68 lead. The shot -- her longest as a pro and the second longest by a WNBA player this season -- was a vintage Clark bucket that hearkened back to some of her exploits at Iowa. Predictably, it sparked a delirious reaction from a crowd that came looking for a reason to erupt and had been awaiting one of Clark's huge performances.

Clark also controlled the offense late, pushing the pace and setting up post players Aliyah Boston and Temi Fagbenle. Ultimately, the Fever failed to capitalize on opportunities, like a would-be tying layup that Boston missed in the final seconds.

"I think it was a big shot," Clark said of her 3-pointer. "It gave us some momentum, got the crowd going. Our crowd was incredible. ... I think you could see the progress that this team is making, and that's why this one hurts a lot because we were right there and we had plenty of opportunities to go win the game, and then you don't."

Sides took heart in Clark's handling of the ankle injury. Within minutes of leaving the court, Clark had a trainer retape the ankle and quickly returned to the bench seeking to re-enter the game.

"She's tough," Sides said. "She didn't want anybody to help her off the court. I love that about her. I love that's what she's about. She walked it off herself, did what she needed to do to come back in the game."

Clark sat for the final 5:29 of the second quarter, but when she returned for the third, she was no less intense. That intensity was never more evident than when she was called for a technical foul with 3:37 left after delivering some choice words to an official.

"A little frustration," she said.

Likely adding to Clark's frustration was the defensive efforts of Sun guard DiJonai Carrington, who blanketed Clark throughout and stymied Clark's many efforts to launch her beloved step-back 3-pointers.

The Fever's 17 turnovers and huge foul disparity (24 to 13) are among the things that will need to change if Indiana is going to close out games like Monday's.

"I think every team that we play against has an identity, and ... we have to establish that," veteran guard Kelsey Mitchell said. "And I hate to say this, but we don't have one, to me. And I think that's our next step. I think that our next step is establish who we're going to be. Not just what the social media says and what the world is saying, but who we actually can be."

The Fever now embark on a stretch of three road games in four days, beginning with Wednesday's matchup with the Seattle Storm.