Diana Taurasi and Brittney Griner gesture to Caitlin Clark shows how they feel about WNBA rookie

As the Indiana Fever and Phoenix Mercury prepared to tip off the WNBA’s final game of June on Sunday, Brittney Griner and Diana Taurasi each exchanged a brief hug with star rookie Caitlin Clark near the mid-court circle.

The WNBA icons’ embrace of Clark — Griner and Taurasi have combined for 18 All-Star appearances across their illustrious careers — came after the young point guard’s controversial comments that some interpreted as an attack against the league’s veterans.

During a post-game media availability this week, Clark was asked, “What’s the best advice given to you in-game this season?” The Fever rookie responded by saying, “Nobody gives me advice in games. I wish,” before a wry laugh. Much has been made of the relationship between WNBA veterans and some of the big names in this year’s rookie class headlined by Clark, but there was a clear sign of respect displayed by Taurasi, Griner and Clark before tip-off.

These pregame pleasantries quickly gave way to playoff intensity, as Griner kicked off a spree of five technicals whistled during a two-minute stretch of the second quarter. The towering 6’9 center delivered a two-handed shove to the head-and-neck area of front-court counterpart Aliyah Boston during a fiery deadball encounter, earning the more severe penalty.

Minutes later, Phoenix’s Kahleah Copper and Natasha Cloud, along with Indiana’s Temi Fagbenle and Erica Wheeler, all received double technical fouls after the two teams attempted to huddle inside the painted area.

The attitudes of WNBA veterans became a source of concern for many as Clark left behind her illustrious college career to become this April’s No. 1 overall draft pick, a dialogue sparked in part by Taurasi downplaying the lofty goals placed upon Clark for her rookie season.

“Reality is coming. There’s levels to this thing. And that’s just life, we all went through it,” Taurasi told ESPN host Scott Van Pelt.

Taurasi scored 19 points against the Fever Sunday

Taurasi scored 19 points against the Fever Sunday

“You see it on the NBA side, and you’re going to see it on this side. You look superhuman playing against 18-year-olds, but you’re going to come with some grown women that have been playing professional basketball for a long time.

“Not saying that it’s not going to translate, because when you’re great at what you do, you’re just going to get better. But there is going to be a transition period, where you’re just going to have to give yourself grace as a rookie, and it might take a little bit longer for some people.”

Tensions flared further as Taurasi explained her antagonistic attitude toward all rookies: “You just want to kill them,” Taurasi said. “It’s just physically punking them. It’s this mental bullying that’s taking place right before the ball goes up.”

Taurasi’s Mercury team also leaned into this budding rivalry between the two perimeter players, billing the first matchup between their star and Clark as “The GOAT vs. The Rook.”

Taurasi’s concerns quickly proved meritorious as Clark struggled early on to capture her unparalleled collegiate dominance, setting the WNBA record for turnovers in a debut while shooting just 37 percent from the field in her first seven games. Clark snapped a recent string of improved shooting performances Sunday, finishing just 4-14 from the field, but dished out 12 assists as Indiana came from behind to beat Phoenix 88-82.

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