For the first two-in-a-half quarters of the Spurs’ Halloween night matchup against the Phoenix Suns, it was looking like a repeat of the 40-point bludgeoning they took two nights earlier against the Clippers might be in order. While the Suns weren’t quite as hot shooting without Devin Booker and Bradley Beal, they still had Kevin Durant, who was out to give Spurs rookie phenom Victor Wembanyama another “welcome to the NBA” moment, and the Spurs seemingly couldn’t complete a clean pass or hit the broad side of a barn from three to save their lives.
However, unlike Sunday, they didn’t fold this time. The “senior” leadership of the group stepped in to steer the ship back in the right direction, and his name is Keldon Johnson. With the Spurs down by as much as 20 early in the third quarter, KJ stepped up with 12 points and three assists — including hitting 3 threes — in the quarter to make even considering a comeback possible. Although they were still down by 13 entering the fourth, there was at least hope: something they didn’t have 48 hours earlier.
His contributions woke everyone else up and set the Spurs up for a wild finish, with once again, Wemby doing most of his damage in the fourth quarter. The first half was a struggle for him, full of sloppy handles and poor shooting — although he did have his “wow” play of the game with a posterization of former Spur Drew Eubanks after crossing up his idol Durant at the three-point line (immediately after Durant had just posterized him, no less) —
— but following in Johnson’s footsteps, Fourth Quarter Wemby contributed 10 huge points, a block and assist in relatively limited minutes. (Fans aren’t liking his long spurts on the bench, but we all need to realize that he’s still working himself into NBA shape, so his stints will be a little short for now. What’s important is Pop saved him for the final moments, and it worked.) Devin Vassell also had 10 points in the quarter, including this beautiful step-back three, which as Reggie Miller pointed out, gave off some Damian Lillard vibes.
Tre Jones continued to show his value as a two-way point guard, and the Spurs won the quarter 33-19 to complete the insane rally, with the last five minutes being about as wild as they come. The Spurs had plenty of chances to tie things up or take the lead earlier than their final possession but just couldn’t get over the hump, but at the same time, they always had an answer for the Suns’ answers. It’s easier to just watch than try to explain it all.
Let’s review their final two possessions one more time. While Wemby failed to set a screen, and the play completely broke down, leaving Vassell to heave up a desperation three with ten seconds left, Wemby made up for it by being there for the put-back jam with just under seven seconds left to get the score within one. Johnson, Jones and Jeremy Sochan then swarmed Durant on the inbounds pass. While he claimed he was fouled, and there may have been enough contact that the Last Two Minute report will back it up, Frank Vogel said after the game the goal was to get the ball to their best free-throw shooter.
That’s understandable but, there is always risk inbounding to the corner on the opponent's side, and they probably would have been better off using their last timeout to advance the ball. Durant didn’t get rid of the ball even though at least two players were open somewhere due to the soft triple-team (Sochan did a good job of moving off Durant and covering the easy baseline pass to Josh Okogie). Johnson then snatched the ball and gave the Spurs their first and only lead of the night with a hanging layup over Okogie. To cap it all off, he then helped contest Durant’s desperation fadeaway on the other end to secure the win.
THE SPURS PULL OFF A MIRACLE!— NBA (@NBA) November 1, 2023
Wemby finishes a putback dunk and then Johnson steals the ball and lays it in for the game ‼️
The Spurs finish the game on an 18-7 (33-19 in the 4Q) pic.twitter.com/E76VdZVBxX
It was a miraculous effort and comeback, moving the Spurs to a somewhat improbable 2-2 record, with both of their wins being double-digit rallies that went down to the wire. Tonight, it all started with Keldon Johnson and his 27 points, 3 assists and two steals to lead the way.
Of course, we would all appreciate a win that involved fewer heart attack moments and don’t actually require miraculous comebacks, but the upside is last year’s squad showed almost no ability to recover after being down double-digits. The fact that they’ve already done it twice in four games is a sign that they have that never-say-die attitude. If the Spurs can work on coming out stronger, not getting themselves into such situations in the first place, and keep learning how to maximize Wemby’s talent earlier than the fourth quarter, there will be plenty more exciting — and hopefully less nerve-racking — wins to come.