The San Antonio Spurs entered an iced over Captial City hoping to avoid a winless week one night after losing a tight one to the Charlotte Hornets. In a reverse from recent back-to-backs, they had Victor Wembanyama available, who sat out the night before with the hopes of playing his old teammate Bilal Coulibaly and the Washington Wizards tonight. He did not disappoint an unusually large Capitol One Arena crowd with 24 points, 8 rebounds and 6 blocks, and although it was looking like the tired Spurs were going to lose their 15th straight close game, they put together one final run to rally from 12 down for a 131-127 win.
Both teams were looking to get out in transition early, and in an encouraging sign, Devin Vassell hit his first two threes to help the Spurs get out to a 15-10 lead. The Spurs continued to have no trouble scoring, but they also couldn’t stop Washington (or turning the ball over). Newest Wizard Marvin Bagley showed no fear of Wemby early, driving directly at him a couple of times and hitting only his second three of the season for 11 first quarter points, and Washington used an 8-0 advantage in free throws attempts to keep things close, with the Spurs only leading 37-36 after one.
The Wizards started the second quarter on a 10-2 run, taking advantage of some lazy Spurs defense and forcing a Gregg Popovich timeout. Doug McDermott and Julian Champagnie responded with a pair of threes, but the defense remained lackadaisical beyond a couple of Wemby blocks, while they continued to jack up threes outside the flow of the offense. They eventually got going again behind an energetic lineup of Vassell, Blake Wesley, Keldon Johnson, Jeremy Sochan and Zach Collins, who went on an 18-6 run to retake the lead with three minutes left and get the team up 72-66 at halftime.
It was a sloppy start to the third quarter, and both teams took advantage of the refs suddenly calling a very tight game to get to the line. There was a more concerted effort by the Spurs to find Wemby on offense, who had 9 of his points, but the Wizards offense also opened up after their slow close to the first half. Both teams played at a torrid pace, which wasn’t to the Spurs’ advantage as they were on a SEGABABA, and they started to look gassed. After they had gotten the lead back up to six, Coulibaly started going off as Washington came back, and the third quarter ended with the game tied up at 100 apiece.
At this point, everything started falling apart for the Spurs. With Coulibaly and Corey Kispert leading the charge, Washington went on a 17-6 run in the first six minutes while the Spurs offense staggered and got sloppy again. Passes were errant for five turnovers, and no shots — good or bad — would fall. However, these Spurs haven’t been lying down so easily lately, and that continued tonight. An and-1 for Tre Jones finally broke the ice, and the Spurs scored 12 straight to tie thanks back up at 121 before an unlikely hero emerged. A three from Sochan got the Spurs the lead again with 50 seconds left, Bagley took it back with a couple of free throws, and Sochan returned the favor hitting two of his patented one-handed free throws to take the lead for good. The Wizards couldn’t hit another shot, and Jones and Vassell iced the game with a few free throws for the thrilling 131-127 win.
- It’s probably safe to put the conspiracy theories of any Sochan-Wemby friction to bed. It was ridiculous to begin with but gained fuel online every time Sochan failed to find Wemby on offense. Both have been finding each other a lot lately, and together the two could eventually create one of the more formidable front court defenses in the league. While Sochan was already quietly having a great night in the shadow of the Wemby show, no one would have pegged him as their crunch-time go-to, but he answered the call by making a drawn-up three by Pop out of a timeout and both free throws, each of which came with the Spurs down in the final minute and in need of points. He finished with 23 points on 8-11 shooting and led the team with a whopping plus/minus of +27.
- Devin Vassell also quietly had nice bounce back game after a rough week with 21 points on 8-14 shotting, including 4-6 from three. If everyone else around him is contributing, he won’t have to settle for such tough shots, and consistency will come easier.
- Another starter who quietly had a great game was Tre Jones, who almost got a triple double with 11 points, 12 assists and 8 rebounds. This also marked the first time in 10 tries that he has beaten his big brother Tyus in an NBA game.
- Malaki Branham is clearly on a short leash right now. For the second game in a row, he was benched after a bad play in the first half and never returned, ceding his minutes to a rapidly improving Blake Wesley. After being pulled for a bad defensive rotation in the first half against Charlotte, he ended the first quarter in Washington by getting his pocket picked while dribbling down the clock, resulting in a Wizards’ layup just before the buzzer. Tre Jones returned in his place to start the second quarter, and Wesley again got his backup minutes from then on. Branham ended the night with 2 points in 4 minutes.
- Wemby is supposedly going to get his ankle reexamined at some point this upcoming week, so here’s to hoping it comes back clean and he can get off the minutes restrictions and resume playing in back-to-backs.
Play of the Game
I wanted to specifically give it to Sochan for the bigtime clutch three, but no one individually captured it, so how about the 12-point comeback as whole? It took an entire team effort anyways.
Up next: Monday at Philidelphia 76ers
Wemby will get a chance to go up against another MVP big man in Joel Embiid on Monday as the Spurs continue their road trip ahead of the homestand ahead of the Rodeo Road Trip. Tipoff will be at 6:00 PM CT on NBA TV and Bally Sports.