Angel Reese Let Her Game Do The Talking In A Masterpiece Against The Fever

CHICAGO — Angel Reese authored an “over-my-dead-body” game on Sunday afternoon, June 23. The seventh overall pick in the 2024 WNBA Draft muscled the Chicago Sky (6-9) to their first win against the Indiana Fever (7-11) this season, a cinematic 88-87 comeback at Chicago’s Wintrust Arena, the first of these three June rivalry gauntlets played in Chicago. Reese dazzled in her most complete game as a pro, posting a career-best 25 points and 16 rebounds — her eighth consecutive double-double, an all-time WNBA rookie record — which made her the first rookie to post a 25-and-15 line since A’ja Wilson in 2018 and just the fourth ever (Wilson, Tina Charles, Candace Parker). Reese didn’t dwell on her masterpiece, even if it stirred a sold-out crowd to reach piercing decibels and pure basketball nirvana.

“I’m just hoopin’,” Reese said postgame. “I’m from Baltimore. This is what I do. I come out and perform. I do whatever it takes to win every single day. I love this game.”

Reese is from Baltimore, but she is quickly assuming position as Chicago’s own.

“Being able to be around so many people who love me and embrace me, Chicago is the perfect place for me,” she said. “I was so happy that I dropped to seven [in the draft] to [land] here. I know I’ll be here for a while.”

And for better or worse, Reese will be inextricably linked to No. 1 overall pick Caitlin Clark for a while — probably the entirety of their WNBA careers. The origin of the Rookie Of The Year candidates’ perceived rivalry is widely traced to Reese’s LSU Tigers obliterating Clark’s Iowa Hawkeyes to capture the 2023 NCAA championship, and their first two meetings as pros poured kerosene on the dichotomous narratives surrounding each star. Carter received a Flagrant 1 for a physical foul on Clark on June 1, a 71-70 Fever win, prompting national discourse that veered into harmful, racially motivated territory and likely led to a deranged fan reportedly harassing the Sky outside of their Washington, DC hotel later that week. Manufactured controversy again overshadowed the Fever’s 91-83 win over the Sky again on June 16, as Reese picked up a Flagrant 1 going for a block and catching Clark in the head instead, sparking another round of over-the-top pontificating.

Sunday’s game was still laced with healthy drama, as is every rivalry game. Diamond DeShields blocked Clark’s layup into next week and let her know about it. Reese and NaLyssa Smith exchanged clever trash talk throughout the game, including Smith hitting Reese with the “too small” gesture and a double technical sequence in the fourth. But this game was a master class from exceptional competitors — nothing more, nothing less — fighting through 11 lead changes and 10 ties, underscored by Reese.

“[Reese] brings a lot of energy for all of us — it rubs off [on us],” said Chicago’s rookie No. 3 overall pick Kamilla Cardoso, who complemented Reese beautifully with 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Roughly an hour before tipoff, a fan named Shakira Miller spoke to Reese’s charismatic appeal. She traveled from Louisiana to witness her favorite player and hoped to catch her attention with a customized tee with three images of Reese printed on the front. She repeatedly gushed, “I love Angel Reese!” What was most telling, perhaps, was that she felt the need to couch it with, “But I don’t hate Caitlin Clark.” Another fan named Pam, a longtime Sky half-season ticketholder who adopted Clark as her favorite player and held a Hawkeyes flag, interjected, “Are we allowed to like both? It doesn’t seem like it.”

The intense regular-season contest, with an evenly split crowd, featured a well-rounded cast of contributors. But any game co-headlining Clark and Reese will always have them alone on the marquee; what matters is how they are portrayed.

Clark was outstanding, scoring 17 points on 5-of-11 shooting (5-of-9 from three) and 13 assists (a career-high and Fever franchise record). Reese was so impressive that WNBA icon Sheryl Swoopes held her tightly courtside after the game. Two things can be true at once, but can two players in the WNBA, these two players, be equally valued? If anything, Sunday was a resonant reminder that Reese’s excellence should be relished with the same ubiquitous fervor that Clark’s is. Reese stands on her own and should not only be amplified in contrast with Clark.

The Sky trailed Indiana by 15 with 90 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The Fever rolled into Chicago on a four-game win streak, with Clark and reigning WNBA Rookie of the Year Aliyah Boston (18 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two blocks) riding their improved chemistry to what appeared to be a fifth straight win — and then Reese happened. Reese earned an and-one bucket underneath the rim for a three-point play, drew a personal foul on Clark, sinking two more free throws, and collected a defensive rebound to give Chicago life entering the fourth. Clark stunted Reese’s momentum by nailing a 33-foot three to open the fourth, but Reese was relentless. As first-year Sky head coach Teresa Weatherspoon said, “The ball found her.” After another Clark three put the Fever up 80-68 with just over seven minutes left, Reese scored 10 of the Sky’s final 20 points, including a tough and-one against Smith in the waning moments.

“I’m a perfectionist, so I’m really hard on myself,” Reese said. “I don’t try to give myself grace, but I’ve been trying to give myself grace. My teammates and my coaches have done a great job texting me and telling me, ‘You’re doing great.'”

“It’s not going to be perfect,” Weatherspoon said. “It’s not going to be super correct all the time, but what you want to see is the effort and the energy to go get it done.”

Reese emphasized after the game that she prefers to let her game do the talking, but she can’t help but wear her emotions. She shook her head and made a concerned facial expression when Marina Mabrey missed two free throws with 18 seconds left to keep the Fever well within heartbreaking walk-off territory at 88-87 — “I didn’t want to let this one slip out of our hands” — and she was viscerally euphoric when Boston whiffed a potentially game-winning jumper with two seconds left, later dancing with Carter (23 points, five assists) to Kendrick Lamar’s “Not Like Us.” When Cardoso secured the rebound, Reese threw her fists in the air. Reese’s game had said enough; she let out an uninhibited roar.

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

More importantly, you shouldn’t have to be convinced to appreciate it.