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Angel Reese walks the walk in Sky’s rivalry win over Caitlin Clark, Fever

CHICAGO — With 43.4 seconds left and the clock stopped after a foul, Angel Reese walked by herself toward the faraway Chicago Sky basket, smiling and clapping with that familiar look on her face.

Forget Vogue and the Met Gala, this was a proper runway.

After two losses to the Indiana Fever in Indianapolis, Reese and the Sky were in the lead, in control, and Reese knew it.

While the remaining basketball after that moment was, to put it nicely, a little frenzied, Reese and the Sky held on for an 88-87 victory over Caitlin Clark and the Fever on Sunday at a raucous, packed Wintrust Arena.

Round 3 goes to Angel Reese and the Chicago Sky.

During the week leading up to the game, Sky forward Marina Mabrey told a few of us that if this really were a rivalry, she hoped it would be billed as “Sky-Fever” and not “Caitlin Clark vs. Angel Reese.” Mabrey knew the drama was good for the league but didn’t think the two highly scrutinized rookies needed that extra weight.

But let’s be real: Clark and Reese are inexorably linked after their college battles. After two Clark wins in the WNBA portion of this personal series, it was Reese who came out on top in a nationally televised ESPN game, and she needed it.

On the 40th anniversary of the Ryne Sandberg Game on the North Side, Chicago got the Angel Reese Game in the South Loop.

In the win, which moved the Sky (6-9) just past the Fever (7-11) in the WNBA standings, Reese had 25 points and 16 rebounds. It was her eighth consecutive double-double, and she became the first rookie to have a 25-15 line since A’ja Wilson in 2018.

Ryno’s statue outside of Wrigley Field was unveiled at the same time this game tipped off, but there was no better place to be in Chicago other than Wintrust Arena. This was a real-deal, big-time basketball game. There was no viral drama about technical fouls, no talks of jealousy or chips on shoulders. It was just two up-and-coming teams starring rookies with championship dreams.

It was a sellout crowd of 9,872. Tickets were going for hundreds of dollars on the secondary market and the Sky gave out 75 media credentials.

Celebrities abounded, though most were of the local variety. Caitlin Clark super-fan Jason Sudeikis sat next to Chance the Rapper on one end of the court, while Knicks point guard and suburban Chicago native Jalen Brunson was near rapper Lil Durk on the other. We had a halftime concert from Durk and a pregame set from Vic Mensa. Bears president Kevin Warren probably would’ve given a speech if anyone had asked. Reese got a huge hug from Hall of Famer Sheryl Swoopes after the game.

“I mean, of course it’s good for the game,” Reese said. “Good for women’s basketball, but also good for women’s sports. You see NBA players, rappers, legends that played in the league for long time, come out and stand and show support. Everybody’s watching right now. I think this is one of the most important times right now. We just continue to keep putting on. I think both teams did an amazing job putting on a show. And it was fun. I had a great time. I’m sure the other team had a great time. So I’m just happy we won tonight.”

Not to doubt Reese, but I’m not so sure the Fever had a great time after blowing a 15-point lead in the third quarter. They had plenty of chances down the stretch but seemed out of sync in their offense, shooting 5-of-17 from the field and committing four turnovers in the fourth. Though she still finished with 17 points and 13 assists, Clark was almost invisible late in the game.

Meanwhile, Reese was spurring the Sky to the win with 10 points and 5 rebounds in the fourth.

“It was amazing, you know,” said her rookie teammate Kamilla Cardoso, who was pretty amazing herself with 16 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes. “Just her energy. I feel like she brings a lot of energy for all of us. It rubs off.”

There was a moment midway through the fourth when Fever forward NaLyssa Smith scored on Reese and gave the “too small” gesture. On the other end, Reese scored on Smith and drew the foul for a three-point play. The two barked each other for the rest of the game, though Reese would later play coy about Smith’s disrespect.

“My teammates had to tell me about that,” she said with a laugh. “I didn’t even know she did that. That’s crazy. Me and NaLyssa, I’ve been competing against each other since I was at Maryland and she was at Baylor, so it’s nothing. No hard feelings. Me and Nalyssa just two great competitors.”

Their back-and-forth gave the end of the game a little more juice. That’s for sure. This is just entertainment, after all. And while Clark knows how to command the spotlight, Reese’s game is down in the blocks. While Clark has made her fame and fortune as a long-range shooter and a passing whiz (some of her passes Sunday lifted me out of my baseline seat), Reese can win a game in the paint.

Just before she walked down the court clapping, Reese got a play called for her out of a timeout and she hit a jump hook just outside the restricted area to put the Sky up 86-84.

“I’m a dog,” Reese told ESPN’s Holly Rowe. “You can’t teach that.”

But, she later elaborated, you can teach her how to improve. Film review helps.

Reese, who came into the game shooting below 40 percent from the field and 75 percent from the free-throw line, went 8-of-12 and 9-of-11, respectively. While she had “only” three offensive rebounds, below her league-leading average of 4.7, she led everyone with 13 defensive rebounds. She had only one personal foul in 36 minutes.

“I was efficient tonight, finally,” she said. “I didn’t get in foul trouble, finally. I got some rebounds. I mean, I turned the ball over three times but I feel like I’m just getting better. I’m gaining confidence. I’ve watched film with T-Spoon (coach Teresa Weatherspoon). I’ve watched film with David (Simon, the player development coach). He showed me every shot that I’ve missed, every shot that I’ve missed around the basket. That’s why I tried to take my time today, finish around the basket. I’m getting and-1s and I’m being more efficient, so I just continue to try to grow every game.”

It wasn’t just her coaches who gave her the advice of slowing herself down with the ball.

“(Atlanta Dream forward) Tina Charles told me I got as much time as I need around the basket, and I that’s what I took today,” Reese said.

Time. It’s something that both Reese and Clark have plenty of. They went right from the NCAA Tournament into the WNBA season, and it seems like it’s been one big news cycle since March. But whenever someone starts going off on something Reese says, I want to remind them that she’s just 22 years old. The same with Clark, who deals with unreal expectations and a never-ending culture war outside of her control.

“I’m a perfectionist,” Reese said. “So it’s kind of hard. I’m really hard on myself, and I don’t try to get myself grace, but I’ve been trying to get myself grace. My teammates and our coaches have done a great job texting me and telling me, like, ‘You’re doing great. You’re fine. You’re doing a really good job.’ I do have a lot on my plate. I do have a lot going on, and (they) just being able to reassure me is something I need.”

When it comes to their rivalry, we’ll judge them, of course, on wins and losses.

Reese won the national title in 2023 and Clark got her revenge, albeit in the Elite Eight, this spring. Clark got the first two in the WNBA and Reese took the third. They’ll play again at the end of August in Chicago with a possible playoff spot on the line.

I’m predicting that Chicago and the WNBA will once again have Sky Fever.

(Top photo: Quinn Harris / Getty Images)

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