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Anthony Davis outduels Victor Wembanyama as Lakers hold off Spurs’ comeback attempt

The Spurs’ losing streak reached 18 after a failed comeback attempt against the LeBron James-less Lakers.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs came close to completing a heroic comeback to snap their losing streak before succumbing to the Lakers in the end. San Antonio dropped its 18th straight but there were signs of progress in a close 122-119 loss that was more suspenseful and exciting than it initially seemed it was going to be.

LeBron James missed the game, so all eyes were on the clash of star bigs. Just like everyone else, Victor Wembanyama was eager for the matchup against Anthony Davis. Arguably too eager, as the rookie was extra aggressive on offense early on but not particularly smart with his shot selection. The offense was struggling as Wemby had some questionable possessions and the Lakers did a good job of keeping Devin Vassell from getting involved by helping off Jeremy Sochan, daring the second-year forward to shoot. On the other end, the Spurs’ transition defense was awful and the Lakers were getting to the cup at will on drives. Things got so bad that Gregg Popovich swapped his entire starting lineup for a bench unit that did a better job of getting buckets but also had trouble protecting the paint. Davis led the way and the visitors were up by eight after one.

The Lakers were outplaying the Spurs significantly in every area, but some timely threes by San Antonio and a stretch in which the guys wearing blue and gold committed some unforced turnovers kept the score closer than it should have been. Still, Davis was dominant and the defense from the home team was so bad that slowly Darvin Ham’s guys managed to pull away. The threes started to fall for the visitors and everything was tough on offense for the Spurs. It seemed like an early blowout was in the cards, but Keldon Johnson looked for his shot aggressively and Victor Wembanyama woke up and put together a fantastic two-way stretch. That duo did most of the work to lead their team to a solid end of the half that prevented the deficit from truly getting out of hand.

The third quarter didn’t offer many reasons for optimism for San Antonio. The same issues that got the team in a hole in the first half were still there after the break. The defense couldn’t string together stops and the good stretches on offense were the result of good individual performances and not solid team execution. Malaki Branham and Keldon Johnson got some buckets and Victor Wembanyama did star things, but every time the Spurs got close, something went wrong. Turnovers continued to happen and the adjustment of doubling Anthony Davis worked well at times but also resulted in some open looks for the Lakers’ shooters. There was no third-quarter collapse, but the Spurs couldn’t make headway and the visitors stretched their lead by five, heading into the final period up 18.

It would have been easy for the Spurs to fold at that point, especially with the Lakers getting a 20-point lead in the opening minute. They didn’t, which speaks to the character of a group that lacks talent and direction but not the drive to improve. Slowly but surely, the Silver and Black chipped away at the deficit while Anthony Davis rested. Once the superstar big man checked back in with his team up 11 and just over seven minutes to go, it seemed like the comeback attempt would come to an end, but San Antonio persisted. Everyone did their part to try to snap the losing streak, including Wemby, who hit a couple of clutch threes when Davis threatened to put the game out of reach. Unfortunately, a missed free throw and a careless turnover sealed the Spurs’ fate. It was a good effort that came up short, like many have this season.

Game notes

  • Wembanyama finished with 30 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks. He had his rookie moments and at one point was getting severely outplayed by Davis, but still managed to put together a terrific performance in the end. Even more impressive? He didn’t seem happy after the game despite getting his numbers because the team lost. He will be a superstar. There’s no question about it.
  • Keldon Johnson went from being a disaster on defense and invisible on offense in the first half to being the catalyst for the would-be comeback. 18 of his 28 points and six of his eight assists came after the break, as he went into attack mode. More consistency from Keldon would be great, but he gets a pass on this one.
  • Malaki Branham scored efficiently and showed some creativity looking for his shot. He logged zero assists and three turnovers, including the crucial one in the clutch, but it’s not his fault that he’s often asked to be a defacto point guard. All in all, a good performance for the second-year player, who finished with 19 points and made up for a bad scoring night by Devin Vassell, who is still on a cold streak.
  • It was a rough game for Jeremy Sochan. The Lakers didn’t guard him and dared him to shoot in the first half. He missed more than he made, so he was only looking to pass in the second half, and the Lakers knew it. He also couldn’t do a good job guarding D’Angelo Russell. Sochan’s mental toughness continues to be tested.
  • The bench did its job. Zach Collins hit a couple of threes, Tre Jones dished out six assists, Cedi Osman was as active as ever and Doug McDermott, who had a bad shooting night, at least got two steals. Finding some minutes for Devonte’ Graham would give the second unit the extra firepower it needs, but Pop doesn’t seem interested in doing so, which means opposing benches will often outscore them.

Play of the night

Turning defense into offense is already one of Wembanyama’s strengths. As he gets more experience guarding the best players in the league, he’ll become an absolute monster on both ends.

Next game: vs. Lakers on Friday

The Spurs will get another crack at the Lakers in two days. LeBron James might be available for that matchup, so it might be tough to snap the losing streak at 18.