Fans got all they could have asked for out of a preseason game, with Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holgren making their NBA debuts and putting on a first-half show, complete with threes, dunks, and (playful) flexing at each other in a glimpse of what could very well be the future of the league and revitalization of their 2010’s rivalry. The Spurs got out to a fast start and led 81-74 at the half, but the Thunder were the hot team in the second half, pulling ahead and staving off a late rally as the Spurs fell 121-122.
Wembanyama led five Spurs in double figures with 20 points on 8-13 shooting, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and a block. Holgren had 21 points and 9 rebounds, all in the first half.
- With Keldon Johnson and Jeremy Sochan sitting this one out, there probably isn’t too much to glean from the starting lineup, which included Julian Champagnie alongside Tre Jones, Devin Vassell, Zach Collins and Wemby. If nothing else, it might be an indicator that Champagnie has earned a spot in the main rotation — or it could be his chance to earn one. It’s just too early to tell, but you can still take from it what you wish.
- After letting his teammates work for the first few minutes, Wemby’s first points came on a putback of a missed free throw by Vassell, followed by transition dunk. He also showed the world his defensive presence when Jalen Williams seemed to easily drive by him, only for him to turn around and block the layup attempt with relative ease. He then drove right through Holgren for the and-1 and dunked on him in transition. By the time his first stint was up, he had 10 points on 4-5 shooting and was having a lot of fun. Two more threes and a nifty reverse layup in the second quarter gave him 18 points at the half.
- The Spurs tried a few almost court-length passes to Wemby on the fast break, but the first few were short and intercepted by the defense. The passes need to be up high and ahead of him, and he’ll get them. There’s that old saying in football where the perfect pass is when the quarterback puts the ball only where the wide receiver (but not a defender) can catch it. The same rule applies with Wemby both out on the break and down in the post, and once his teammates learn where to put the ball for him, he’ll be nearly unstoppable.
- Cedi Osman and Doug McDermott looked like a potential lethal combination off the bench, which a series of pretty passes for threes between each other, and McDermott was especially hot with 10 first-half points. Malaki Branham also started the preseason where he left off in Summer League (and last season) with 12 efficient points in the first half.
- Charles Bassey and Blake Wesley filled out the rest of the second unit on the night. Both looked good on defense, but Wesley’s finishing around the rim appears to still be a weakness. His most maddening play was missing a lay-up after Wemby had gotten the steal, dribbled it behind his back to gain control, and dished it out to Wesley in transition. It was like he didn’t know where we was relative to the basket and never looked before going into his layup motion. He has to learn to finish the easy ones.
- After a scorching first half full of excitement and highlights for both sides, the second half much more resembled a preseason game, especially for the Spurs, with sloppier play and less energy. Holgren sat out the second half while Wemby just saw five more minutes before sitting, and the Spurs offense went cold. The fourth quarter was third unit time, and while it looked like Thunder were going to run away with the game, a few shots from Sir’Jabari Rice and Devonte’ Graham made things interesting. They got within one and had the ball for the final possession, but Charles Bediako got stuffed and Graham missed a buzzer-beater three to ensure the loss. Of note, the one available player who never saw the court was Khem Birch.
- After a hot scrimmage on Saturday fresh off signing a new contract extension, Vassell had an off night, scoring just six points on 2-7 shooting. It was understandable in the first half as he seemed to (correctly) recognize that Wemby was the hot hand and deferred to him, but when he tried to take over in the third quarter as the game started slipping away, he was too far out of rhythm. Don’t be surprised if the Spurs work to get him going first in the next game.
The Spurs will make their home preseason debut on Friday against Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat. Tip-off has been moved to 6:30 PM CT on TNT.