PHOENIX — The San Antonio Spurs led by as many as 27 points Thursday night against the Phoenix Suns.
But with 4:21 remaining, they found themselves tied at 116. That’s when Victor Wimpanyama, the No. 1 pick, took over and made sure the Spurs came out of the bullpen with victory.
San Antonio responded with a 12-0 run, with Wembanyama scoring 10 of those points, as the Spurs beat the Suns 132-121.
Wembanyama is 15 of 19 in the fourth quarter this season. The 78.9% percentage is the best in the league among the 117 NBA players who attempted 10 field goals in the fourth round.
Before his first preseason game, Wimpanyama was asked if he felt like a clutch player. He said he was and the league hadn’t seen the best of him yet. When he remembered that on Thursday, he smiled.
“It is a requirement, if we are ambitious,” he said.
San Antonio jumped out to a 27-point lead in the first half, but unlike Tuesday’s game when the Spurs came back from a 21-point deficit, the Suns came back on the attack. Unlike Tuesday, Phoenix couldn’t shut it down.
Former Spur Keita Bates-Diop hit a corner 3-pointer with 4:21 left in the game, tying the score for the first time. After that, Wembanyama got to work.
He was fouled on the next possessions, where he made three of his four free throws. On Phoenix’s next possession, Wimpanyama caused a deflection and then made a left-handed layup.
Zach Collins hit a floater in the lane after Kevin Durant missed a 3-pointer, forcing a Suns timeout.
Wembanyama put the finishing touches on his performance with a hat-trick and another shot down the line to bring Spurs’ lead back to 12.
In just his fifth career game, Wimbanyama finished with 38 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks on 15-of-26 shooting.
“Every game is different,” Wembanyama said. “We got our third win. Every game we try to find the points we need to hurt them. Today, it might have been that way. Tomorrow, it will be someone else. That’s how great teams work. If we want it.” To be great, we have to play with everyone.”
Wembanyama’s 38 points are the third-most points scored by a rookie in Spurs history. Only David Robinson had more Wimpanyama, with games of 41 and 39 points in 1990.
The Spurs played the final 6:04 without a timeout after coach Gregg Popovich used two fourth-quarter braces to seal the game as Phoenix made its late push.
Popovich praised his team for its resilience in the face of adversity. He said his team took a “bad hit” from the Suns and credited Durant and Devin Booker with getting the Suns back into the game.
“For about three minutes in the attack, we lost our composure, which allowed them to run and do whatever,” Popovich said. “But we hung in there, and we got back on our feet in the last three or four minutes. So, for a young team that needs to learn that in the fourth quarter, that was the best part of the game against a very good team.”
Tuesday’s game was Booker’s first back after missing the past three games with a sprained left ankle. Booker scored 31 points and 13 assists in 35 minutes.
Booker described Wembanyama as an “incredible talent”.
“I’m just trying to figure out who he is because we’ve never seen him before,” Booker said. “We signed him early in the season, and hopefully next time we play him we can make some adjustments to make it a little more difficult for him. But he has the advantage of being 7-4 and being able to shoot over everyone. Just finding different ways to make it tougher on him.” .
Tottenham played the second half without goalkeeper Devin Vassell, who entered the night as the team’s top scorer and had 17 goals in the first half, due to tightness in his left thigh.
Vassell will undergo an MRI on Wednesday, but the team may still be without him “for a short time,” Popovich said.
“The hip is one of those things that might take a while and he wasn’t sure about it,” Popovich said. “He thought he could play, but I asked him to come out and warm up and be honest with me, if he felt comfortable and how he felt, and he said he couldn’t continue it.”
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