In a tightly contested game between two rebuilding teams, and marked by a flurry of lead changes and ties, it was #1 draft pick Victor Wembanyama who led a furious rally and willed San Antonio (1-1) to push the game into overtime and resoundingly stun a Houston (0-2) squad that led most of the way. As a result, the Spurs earned a split of their Texas round-robin.
After a tightly contested first half which, despite a cold-shooting San Antonio effort that started 3-of-17 from behind the arc yet still caught up on countless occasions, Houston was able to go up by as much as ten late in the third to assume what seemed like a safe advantage. However, the Spurs mounted a stunning comeback midway through the fourth and thundered ahead in overtime to claim their first victory of the year.
Devin Vassell (25 points and 3 rebounds), Keldon Johnson (20 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists), and Cedi Osman (14 points off the bench) bolstered a clutch crunch-time performance by Wembanyama (21 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks).
An impressive Alpergen Sengun (25 points, 14 rebounds, and 7 assists), paced a balanced Rockets effort bolstered by Fred Van Vleet (24 points and 12 assists) and Jalen Green ( 22 points and 5 rebounds).
The teams battled in a back-and-forth first quarter that saw the visitors grab the lead before the Spurs wrested it away. Houston repeated that script by surging ahead in the second quarter - only for San Antonio to catch up to them at the half.
The Rockets again hopped in front and nabbed a double digit in the third, and it looked surely-like they would keep the Spurs at bay for a win, but then the visitors were stunned and felled by a resilient and resurgent San Antonio finish.
- Saxophone and the national anthem go really well with each other.
- Sean Elliott led the broadcast with this line: “It was fun, but it was a bit frustrating” (remarking on Wemby’s debut, but maybe a good caution for the season ahead).
- Ime Udoka and Tiago Splitter in Rockets’ polos... and Boban Marjanovic (and Reggie Bullock)!
- Victor-Ease #1 (Victories, you get it?): Early in the opening moments, Keldon Johnson threw a soft lob in the general direction of both Sochan and Wembanyama. Victor easily snatched it from the air (and away from his teammate) to finish the alley-oop.
- Victor-Ease #2: Wembanyama nabbed a rebound with one hand late in the opening half, and after a few light dribbles, lofted a feathery pass to a streaking Osman for a transition three.
- Devin’s Deeds: On the defensive end, a more engaged Vassell deflected a pass out of bounds and then forced a travel on the Rockets’ Green in the first period. One thing to watch for is Vassell’s tendency to whip one-handed perimeter passes that may not have the full velocity needed to get around and through defenders.
- It’s early on for sure, but it seems like Osman and Doug McDermott feel positionally redundant.
- Sengun is this decade’s Boris Diaw.
- When it comes to Wembanyama, it seems like most of Elliott’s telestrations will look like parabolas and other forgotten things from geometry.
- Sequence of the First Half: Cedi Osman and Sochan executed a nifty side pick-and-roll midway through the first period that netted Sochan a much-needed dunk.
- Sequence of the Second Half: Late in the fourth period, a driving Osman found Zach Collins at the dunker’s spot, who re-directed the ball to a cutting Sochan for an emphatic slam
- Sequence of the Overtime: Jones stole an errant Rockets pass and found a streaking Johnson on the left wing for a soaring transition slam to put San Antonio up 110-106.
- Both teams started out of the gate slowly. Wembanyama netted the first five points, while the team missed its first six attempts from distance. After Houston went ahead 10-5, the Spurs attacked the rim more fervently. Osman’s leaning three - reminescent of Marco Belinelli - was San Antonio’s first made three. Branham’s pull-up tied things at 20 and his second make closed out the Spurs’ scoring. However, (Jalen) Green’s 30-foot bankshot pulled the Rockets to within two leaving the frame.
- A runner by Marjanovic tied it at 25, and Vassell’s 4-point play stopped Houston’s 9-0 run spanning the quarters. Vassell followed that with a Kobe-esque conversion over Jeff Green. Consecutive travel calls on Sochan and Vassell killed the offensive momentum. After a brick, Johnson followed it up two swishes from deep to keep things close - even as the defense ceded easy baskets in the paint to both Houston. Smith Jr’s dunk and Van Vleet’s transition layup gave the Rockets their biggest lead of the half at nine. San Antonio needed every one of Vassell’s 14 points to pull even at the half 52-52.
- Coming out of the break, a Wembanyama transition layup (that hearkened to many of Manu Ginobili’s forays to the basket) garnered him a three-point play. After the teams traded blows, a Sengun three put the Rockets back up by four. Tre Jones found an open Osman for his third triple, but Houston jumped ahead again. Another Branham jumper stopped the bleeding momentarily, but San Antonio went to the fourth down seven.
- What a Fourth Quarter - Part 1: At the start of the fourth, McDermott’s catch-and-shoot three brought San Antonio within four. Not to be outdone, Jones went coast-to-coast to close the Spurs within two. Dillon Brooks lured Johnson into a shooting foul with 0.1 second on the shot clock after which a pair of prescription glasses found their way onto the court! The Spurs squandered several opportunities to re-tie the game. A beautiful game possession netted Vassell an open three, and Wembanyama answered a Sengun dunk with a reverse alley-oop off a Jones feed.
- What a Fourth Quarter - Part 2: Osman’s fourth three was answered by Smith, Jr. Wembanyama then put Smith Jr. in the spin cycle to dunk a reverse and earn a tough 3-point play before blocking Sengun at the other end. Sengun tapped in an errant shot and Amen Thompson converted a turnover into a dunk. A Sochan dunk and free throws from Vassell brought the Spurs to 102-103. Smith, Jr. drove down an open lane for a deflating dunk without Wembanyama on the court.
- What a Fourth Quarter - Part 3: After Wembanyama returned, he turned away Smith, Jr. twice in the same sequence to save the possession and the game for the Spurs. Free throws brought San Antonio again within one. The referees missed an obvious deflection from Sengun that was called a travel on Collins, but Sengun was assessed a charge at the other end. Wembanyama answered a Sengun bucket with free throws of his own. A reverse layup from Brooks was followed by one Collins free throw. Smith, Jr. bungled his free throws at the other end, and Wembanyama willed home a degree-of-difficulty floater to tie it at 111. A Smith, Jr. miss resulted in a jumpball in the Houston frontcourt between Brooks and Wembanyama, and the tip fell harmlessly out of bounds.
- More Free Basketball!: Wembanyama deflected Sengun’s interior pass and stuck a baseline jumper. Jones lured Sengun into a rare turnover and spoonfed a streaking Johnson for a soaring slam. Sengun committed an offensive foul at the other end. Vassell made up for a miss by stealing Brooks’ pass and finding Collins for a big dunk. After Sengun’s layup, Johnson extended a San Antonio possession with an offensive board. Vassell’s went 1-for-2 at the line and Wembanyama’s tip dunk was inexplicably ruled basket interference. Wembanyama answered Sengun’s power dunk with two free throws. Van Vleet’s straightaway three was answered emphatically by a Collins spinning layup.
- End of Overtime: (Jalen) Green somehow had an open layup to cut the Spurs’ lead to two. Sochan was fouled and made both free throws. After one more (Jalen) Green layup, and in a manner appropriate for the teamwork needed for the win, four different San Antonio players touched the ball as Johnson closed out this enthralling game with a tomahawk jam.
For the Rockets fan’s perspective, please visit The Dream Shake.
San Antonio heads west for a three-game West Coast trip starting with Paul George and the Los Angeles Clippers at 8:00 PM CDT Sunday night.