Saturday, July 20, 2024

Victor Wembanyama’s continued ‘clutch’ time production means more than Spurs’ stunning comeback over Suns

The San Antonio Spurs pulled off a miracle on Tuesday night, completing a 20-point comeback with a last-second steal and layup by Keldon Johnson to stun the Phoenix Suns, 115-114. But as fun as the finish was, the result means little in the grand scheme of things for the rebuilding Spurs, who will take more encouragement from Victor Wembanyama’s continued production in crunch time. 

Wembanyama sat out for over four minutes in the fourth quarter, and didn’t check back in until 2:24 remaining, with the Spurs down by five. Gregg Popovich could have rode with the lineup that had cut the game down to two possessions, but he wisely put his phenom back in the game to get him some more experience in these type of situations. 

Once again, Wembanyama, who finished with 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocks, delivered. 

On the Spurs’ first offensive possession, he caught the ball with six seconds remaining on the shot clock and drove right, where he was quickly engulfed by both Jusuf Nurkic and Kevin Durant. Rather than force up a tough jumper over the double team, Wembanyama dropped the ball down to a cutting Tre Jones, who was fouled and made both free throws. The foul may have been a bit of a bail out considering the time left on the shot clock, but generally speaking his instincts to give it up in that situation were correct. 

With just under a minute to play, the Spurs again had the ball underneath their own basket, and again ran a set for Wembanyama. This time, he runs off a screen from Jeremy Sochan and buries a catch-and-shoot jumper to make it a three-point game. 

As the clock ticked under 30 seconds, the Spurs still trailed by three when Devin Vassell launched a 3-pointer that hit the back of the iron and bounced straight up into the air. The only one tracking the ball was Webmanyama, who ghosted in for a crucial put-back slam to cut the deficit to one and set up Johnson’s game-winning steal and score. 

“Wow, Keldon’s just a bully,” Wembanyama said. “Big time steal. It wasn’t our prettiest game, but we’re learning every day. We’re on the right path.”

The Spurs have already played three “clutch” games this season, defined as the score being within five points with five minutes or fewer remaining. In those contests, Wembanyama has played 15 “clutch” minutes, and has scored 16 points on 6 of 9 from the field, grabbed six rebounds and blocked two shots. 

The only players in the league with more “clutch” points than him this season are LeBron James, Luka Doncic and DeMar DeRozan. Only James and Anthony Davis have more “clutch” rebounds and no one has more “clutch” blocks. There’s a minutes component to that, of course, but it’s still awfully impressive. 

There’s still a long road ahead for the No. 1 overall pick, but it’s already clear that he’s not afraid of the moment. 

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