Alysha Clark feels like she’s taken another step forward in comeback journey

Alysha Clark feels like she's taken another step forward in comeback originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Wednesday night was a pivotal one for the Washington Mystics for many reasons. A win over the defending champion Chicago Sky and the first injury scare of the season for Elena Delle Donne are of course going to take all the headlines. But underlying both of those important storylines is the resurgence of Alysha Clark and her best offensive outing since the 2019 season. 

Clark emerged from the Entertainment and Sports Arena as the leading scorer and one of the integral pieces of a defensive unit that held the Sky to 57 points in the first three quarters. It was just her sixth game back after missing a whole season due to a Lisfranc injury to her right foot.

And while the focus and worry is on the potential injury of the Mystics’ primary star, there’s a juxtaposition of the positivity for Clark as she still progresses forward.

“It’s a little sore, but like it’s the new norm so, but it feels good,” Clark said postgame. “I felt good today. I finally felt like I took another step towards feeling normal, new normal, whatever that looks like. But yeah, I felt good. I felt like I was moving well. I felt confident being out there. So it was good.”

The 34-year-old defensive stalwart showed her offensive ability and took over for a team that needed another playmaker once Delle Donne left the game early in the second quarter.

Washington was sputtering offensively which had allowed the Sky right back into the contest. Clark then rattled off 10 points in a six-possession span heading into halftime. Her spark turned a three-point deficit into a five-point advantage in less than three minutes. That 10-point second quarter guided her to a season-high 19 points on the evening and marked just the second time she’s reached double figures this year.

It was the highest volume of attempts she’s taken this season, her most efficient outing (7-for-9 shooting) and earned her a game-high +16.

“I feel like me personally, as a player, I’m always looking to be in attack mode,” Clark said in reference to her second-quarter spurt. “And I think when you’re in that mind frame, it helps take away thinking about everything else too much. You’re just playing and let the game come to you. So I was just playing how I normally play.”

While the production was great, her offensive prowess isn’t what she’s known for or even why Washington made the pitch to bring her to D.C. before the 2021 season. The former All-Defensive First Team honoree makes her living on the defensive side of the ball.

This time she was tasked with shutting down the fourth-best assist-maker in WNBA history: Courtney Vandersloot.

She held the Chicago point guard to just six points, five assists and five turnovers. 

“It helps when you can play a little bit longer. She feels better every day. We’ll see how she is tomorrow. But you know it’s progress right there,” Mike Thibault said postgame.

“Vandersloot tries a lot to draw to defenders so she can get the assist pass. When you have somebody like Alysha guarding her, you don’t have to help as much so we can play her straight up,” he added. “Alysha bothered her enough to make that hard on her.”

Related: Kennedy Burke is a perfect fit

Clark didn’t have the pomp and circumstance of an injury return earlier this season. That was overshadowed by Delle Donne’s start to the season and the road upset of the Aces. She actually missed the first few games of the year to help get her up to speed after missing a whole calendar year.

It didn’t take long before she got put in “COVID jail,” as she called it, after testing positive. Easing her back in had only netted her four games to that point. Even back from Health and Safety Protocols, she needed a game off to readjust her conditioning. 

Now, the wing defender finally has some momentum finally under her belt. Her 27 minutes was by far the most of the year thus far. That’s a far cry from her celebration of just feeling like a basketball player again in early May.

Washington now can finally reap the on-court benefits of having a player of Clark’s caliber on the roster. 

“Her IQ, the way that she prepares, approaches for a game, it makes all of us better. Obviously she’s known for her defense first, but I think you’re starting to see her kind of get her offensive rhythm which is amazing,” Natasha Cloud said. “[Clark] is really like an anchor for us in a lot of different ways. Whether we’re on a run or the other teams making the run, she comes into our huddle, she gives us poise and what we need at that moment.”

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Sports | Washington Wizards

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