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Spurs battle Heat, but come up short in loss

Miami erased a 19-point first-half deficit to beat San Antonio

NBA: Miami Heat at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio Spurs fans are getting used to a familiar formula in the first month of the NBA season. A run of strong play, followed by a streak of play that negates the progress that was made. That’s part of the process for a young team. At least according to Gregg Popovich.

“The effort is there, I can see the wheels turning,” Popovich told reporters after the Spurs 118-113 loss to the Heat on Sunday. “They are learning about each other. I was real proud of what they did tonight. Nobody likes to lose, but they are getting smarter with each game.”

Compared to the Clippers, Knicks and Pacers losses, games like the one against Miami show a young team with promise. At times, they were beating the brakes off a NBA Finals contender. The defense that has struggled for the bulk of the season held the Heat to just 15-points in the first quarter. Yet they gave up a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter in the loss. It’s playing with consistency that needs to be addressed.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of high points from Sunday’s game to highlight. One of those being the inspired play of Victor Wembanyama late in games. Against Miami he had 18 points, 11 rebounds and a career-high 7 assists. He struggled to find his shot early in the game, but was impactful when he found his way to the basket.

This horns set into the lob is a great way to get Wembanyama going towards the basket with a head of steam. The Spurs don’t run a ton of pick and rolls for Wemby, but the ones they do have a good chance in ending with a lob dunk like this one.

The passing has also been steadily improving. The rookie still has a turnover problem (he had 7 against Miami,) but clearly has the vision and willingness to involve his teammates at a high level. Here we see Wemby catch the ball on the short roll, draw two defenders, and dump it off to Keldon Johnson for the and-one dunk. Wembanyama is good at that high-to-low pass, due to his gravity on offense and length to see over defenses.

This is a great sequence to show how impactful Wembanyama can be even if his shot isn’t falling. He makes a great contest on Jimmy Butler, blocking him at the rim. He gets out and runs, and makes a nice cross court pass to Devin Vassell in the corner, who gets an open shot. Defense to offense is the name of the game for this Spurs team that wants to play fast.

Of course it wouldn’t be a Wembanyama highlight section without a thunderous dunk. I am going to start classifying these slams as “nerf hoop dunks.” They looks like the kind of slam you’d have with a basket hanging off your door, rather than one you’d find in an NBA game. It probably will never happen, but Wemby would make for an interesting dunk contest candidate.

You can find Wembanyama’s full highlights below.

Despite some late game turnovers, it was a productive game for Johnson. He led the Spurs in scoring, putting up 20 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists. His playmaking has been improved this year, as he’s averaging 4.3 assists per game. Johnson is one of the best on the team at getting into the paint and making good things happen.

Here we see KJ use his strength and footwork to get into the paint, where he’s a good finisher with touch.

Here is a classic “good-to-great” look from KJ to Jeremy Sochan for three. Sochan looked confident shooting the ball from deep against Miami. He had 16 points and shot 2-3 from downtown. Don’t look now, but Sochan is shooting 39% from three to start the season.

The Spurs will look to bounce back against another young team in Oklahoma City, for their second In Season Tournament game, against the Thunder on Tuesday.

You can check out full highlights from the Miami game below.