In the NBA you need a go-to player down the stretch. Someone who can be relied upon to get your team over the hump when things get tight at the end of the game. LeBron James, Jimmy Butler, Damian Lillard, Nikola Jokic. Superstars are defined by this trait.
In a 126-122 win over the Houston Rockets, Victor Wembanyama flashed his ability to change the game in the clutch in his 21 point, 12 rebound, 3 block performance.
It was a messy game from start to finish. A load of turnovers and questionable shot selection plagued both teams. It came down to the fourth quarter, where the San Antonio Spurs needed someone to step up.
As the Silver and Black were surging with 8 minutes to go in the quarter, Tre Jones pushed the break, and hit a striding Wembanyama for a reverse dunk that changed the aura in the Frost Bank Center. It was the start of the Wemby show.
Finally San Antonio was able to get the ball to their first-overall-pick near the basket. He made highlight plays in the post, facing up Jabari Smith Jr. and taking him baseline for a reverse dunk that was reminiscent of Wilt Chamberlain. He juked out Dillon Brooks to hit a smooth mid range jump shot. He was physical on the low block, powering through Smith Jr. to tie the game.
What was most impressive was his defensive presence. Late in the fourth, Smith Jr. had a head of steam toward the rim. There was just one man in his way. As Houston’s wing skied for the dunk, Wembanyama met him at the rim not once, but twice, saving the Spurs from a sure momentum change.
This has become the normal through two games for Wembanyama. He’s been at his best near the end of the game. He’s tied for 7th in the NBA in fourth quarter scoring, and is first in the league in fourth quarter blocks. The rookie displayed the type of confidence under pressure that typically takes players years to achieve. It’s just one game, but there is clear focus and a winning mentality with him. In fact, he wasn’t satisfied with just dominating the fourth.
“All my life, I have preferred the end of the (game) because I feel better,” Wembanyama told reporters after the game. “But I have to do better before. It is one of my areas of improvement: play hard from the start.”
That’s a winning mindset from the future of the Spurs franchise.
- Wembanyama will get all of the attention, but the Spurs got a lot of production from their rotation on Friday. Cedi Osman has been one of the Spurs best players off the bench, and had a big game against Houston. He had 14 points and hit 4 threes, one of which coming in the clutch. Devin Vassell was lights out again scoring the basketball. He led the Spurs in scoring with 25 points on 7-13 shooting.
- The Silver and Black’s back-up point guard has played well in the first two games. Tonight he had 6 points, a team-high 8 assists, and two steals. Jones lit the fuse that got this team going late. The look ahead to Wembanyama in transition is something that fans (and Sean Elliott on the broadcast) have been begging the Spurs to do since the preseason. Jones was ready for it. He’s been great playing with Wembanyama. In fact, out of the team’s two-man combinations that have played over 30-minutes together, Wemby and Jones have the highest net-rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) of +27.9.
- I’m really encouraged by the camaraderie of this young team. It’s so evident in the way they interact on the bench and during the game. You can tell these guys are totally bought in to what Gregg Popovich wants to do, and like playing with each other. It’s not going to show up in the stat sheet, but that stuff matters. Keldon Johnson looks like a leader out there, holding his teammates accountable for defensive miscues and hyping them up when they make a good play. The Spurs may be leading the league in good vibes through two games.