After losing to the Mavericks on opening night and staring down a daunting schedule for the next two weeks, this game against the Rockets felt like one the Spurs just had to have, but for most of regulation, it didn’t feel like they wanted bad enough. After the Spurs were outplayed and generally looking frustrated for most of the final three quarters, Victor Wembanyama came up big in the fourth once again to help salvage the game and lead his team to a thrilling overtime victory.
After his teammates struggled to get him the ball at times in the season opener, they made sure Wemby got it early and often tonight. They succeeded on that part, as he took seven of their first 12 shots, but his two makes plus a free throw accounted for all five of the Spurs points in the first five minutes, and he only shot 2-10 overall in the first half. At the same, after a sloppy start, the Rockets got going to get the lead to 10-5, forcing a Gregg Popovich timeout. The Spurs returned to more team-oriented offense from there and woke up a bit, finishing the quarter up 25-23.
The Rockets scored the first six points of the second quarter before Devin Vassell went on a 6-0 run of his own, including a four-point play, to briefly retake the lead, but Fred VanVleet got hot with six straight points. The Rockets looked much better from an effort standpoint and managed to stretch out the lead as far as nine at 51-42 with just under two minutes left. It was looking like the Spurs were going to head into the locker room ready for an earful from Pop, but they suddenly woke back up and finished the half on a 10-1 run, highlighted by consecutive threes from Vassell and Cedi Osman, to improbably tie things up at 52 apiece.
Keldon Johnson was the Spurs’ hot hand to kick off the third quarter, but once again the Rockets looked like the team that was trying harder for long stretches. Every time the Spurs would pull even or just ahead, the Rockets would go on a run to get back ahead by a few buckets. The Spurs got extremely sloppy with ball late in third, throwing errant passes and got down by as much as 10, and they entered the fourth quarter down 83-76 only thanks to a late three from Doug McDermott off the offensive rebound.
McDermott opened the fourth with another three, but it was still more of the same: the Rockets would increase the lead a bit, the Spurs would respond and have a chance to retake to lead, but more mistakes would start another Rockets mini-run. However, fourth-quarter Wemby showed up again, with seven points and some huge blocks. Vassell also hit some timely shots, and the Spurs willed themselves back into the game by getting to the line. Still, the Rockets had a chance to stretch the lead to four with 35 seconds left, but Jabari Smith missed both free throws, and Wemby scored what would end up being the game-tying layup with 20 seconds left before Smith missed a wide open three to send it to overtime.
Reenergized, the Spurs scored the first six points in overtime while the Rockets committed four turnovers on their first four possessions, but of course things had to remain interesting. The Rockets finally got a few buckets to fall, and Zach Collins and Vassell missed three straight free throws in the final minute to at least give the Rockets some hope. Down four with 20 seconds left, they got the layup with 16 seconds left as the Spurs worked not to foul, but Jeremy Sochan was able to hit the clutch one-handed free throws to get them back up by four. The Rockets then got another layup but inexplicably decided not to foul (or they just forgot to), and Johnson got a wide-open slam at the other end with a second left to secure the 126-122 OT victory.
- Wemby stole the show in the fourth quarter and overtime, but plenty of other players deserve credit. Vassell again looked like the Spurs’ best player most of the night, with 25 points on 7-13 shooting (3-7 from three). It somewhat surprisingly took him nearly four minutes into the fourth quarter to get his first shot of the second half, and as much as they want to get Wemby going, the Spurs can’t forget about Vassell, either. Johnson also had a big night with 20 points (often at critical times) while hitting 3-7 from three, and Jeremy Sochan was quietly solid with 14 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and those aforementioned huge free throws in OT. Osman had a nice game off the bench with 14 points on 4-6 shooting from three.
- After roasting the Rockets in the preseason, Collins had an especially rough game, maybe one of his worst in a Spurs jersey. His shooting numbers were bad (4-12, 0-7 from three), he got roasted all game on defense by Alperen Sengun, and he looked especially frustrated at times. He had some positives, such as 4 steals, 6 rebounds and a team-leading 8 assists, and you never want to tell a shooter to stop shooting, but there were times when it felt like Gregg Popovich needed to sub him out so he could cool off a bit and get out of his own head.
- Ever so briefly, Ime Udoka gave the fans what they wanted in the first half: Wemby vs. Boban Marjanovic. For the most part, they weren’t directly matched up against each other, with their only interaction being Boban tipping a pass away from Wemby when they got switched onto each other, but at least we can now say we’ve seen it.
- The Spurs had a chance to seal the deal even earlier in OT when Wemby tipped Vassell’s missed free throw back in, but it was called offensive basket interference and “stood” after Pop challenged the call (meaning they didn’t have enough evidence to overturn it, as opposed to “confirmed”). I don’t know about you, but the fact that you could see the entire rim for a millisecond there told me that it wasn’t interference. Maybe they just couldn’t tell if it was still touching the side of the rim? Who knows, but the NBA needs to get rid if this rule. What do you think, good or bad call?
Play of the Game
I wanted to give it to Wemby’s most important play, which was the game-tying layup at the end of regulation, but I can’t find any video of it. Instead, here’s his flashiest play: a beautiful reverse dunk on the alley-oop pass from Tre Jones out near midcourt. The crowd wants wow, and this was WOW!
Up next: Sunday at Clippers
This Spurs will head out for their first road trip of the season, beginning against their old friend-turned-foe: Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers. Can Wemby go off again and officially put that era to bed? We’ll find out beginning at 8:00 PM CT.