PHOENIX – Dressed for Halloween as Slender Man, Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama walked into a Slim Reaper sighting and lived to tell a tale of triumph.
Wemby dressed up as Slenderman for Halloween 👻 pic.twitter.com/uIwJcaYO4u
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) November 1, 2023
Keldon Johnson made it possible by snatching a steal off Kevin Durant for the game-winning layup, seconds after Wembanyama notched a tip dunk with 6.8 left to pull the Spurs within one.
“I was just like, sh– let’s just make a play,” Johnson said of his decisive steal and score. “The worst that can happen is they’ll call a foul.”
Johnson scored a game-high 27 points while Wembanyama produced nine of his 18 points in the fourth quarter to propel San Antonio’s 115-114 come-from-behind win. The Spurs overcame a 20-point deficit and trailed by 13 going into the fourth.
Here are five takeaways from the matchup.
1. KD and Wembanyama end first two quarters in style
The 17,071 fans in the house rose to their feet when Durant held the ball just past halfcourt near the end of the first quarter with Wembanyama crouching into a defensive stance to him.
Driving baseline, Durant exploded into a stepback jumper over the eight-foot wingspan of the Spurs rookie. Swish. Phoenix ended the quarter leading 27-18.
The Suns veteran then closed the second quarter with a rim-rocking two-handed jam over Wembanyama. Durant beat Jeremy Sochan on an inbounds play and caught the ball cutting towards the basket. The 19-year old stepped over to help. Too late.
Not to be outdone, Wembanyama completed the dunk exchange with Durant on the other end of the floor with a monstrous lefty slam over Allen.
KD & WEMBY TRADE DUNKS TO END THE HALF 🤯 pic.twitter.com/FtoMizSg31
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) November 1, 2023
2. On this day in 2007
Durant debuted at age 19 for the Seattle SuperSonics in a 120-103 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
The eventual 13-time All-Star scored 18 points on 7-of-22 shooting, tallying three steals and a block. Fast forward to today and Durant stands as one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history.
With 26 points on 12-of-19 shooting against the Spurs, Durant became the 12th player in league history to reach 27,000 career points.
He accomplished the feat in his 990th game, fewer than everybody ahead of him except for Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
3. Keldon Johnson
With Wembanyama in the fold and Devin Vassell blossoming, folks tend to forget Johnson led the Spurs last season in scoring (22.0 points per game). He’s produced 17 points or more in three of four games so far.
Against the Suns, Johnson embodied the resilience Spurs coach Gregg Popovich covets. Johnson connected on 10-of-20 for a season-high 27 points to go with four assists and two steals.
“We spent time talking about double-teaming first to see if we could get a steal,” Popovich said of Johnson’s game-winning play. “You don’t have to just go over and whack somebody.”
Johnson admitted he was unaware of the time remaining during the chaotic final moments.
“When Wemby dunked it back in, I didn’t know it was that little time,” the 24-year old said. “So, when I laid the ball up, I’m like, ‘Damn, it’s 1.6 seconds left.’ It never occurred to me.”
THE SPURS PULL OFF A MIRACLE!
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
— NBA (@NBA) November 1, 2023
4. Devin Booker, Bradley Beal waiting game
Devin Booker (sprained left ankle) sat out his third consecutive game while new addition Bradly Beal (lower back spasms) hasn’t yet made his Suns debut.
Interestingly, Phoenix expected that duo to team with Durant for the final preseason game on Oct. 19. But the trio of stars continues to wait for their first regular-season action.
Suns coach Frank Vogel declined to specify a timetable for his guards’ returns.
“They’re working very hard to get back as soon as possible,” he said. “Both have begun doing some on-court work but mostly light shooting. So, I’m still not sure.”
As Booker and Beal start ramping up to return, Vogel mentioned the guards have spent most of their time conditioning in the weight room and not on the court with the team. Both have shown signs of progress in recent workouts.
5. Spurs defense better against Suns, but still an issue
The Spurs allowed at least 120 points in the first three games and their opponents had scored at least 115 points in 17 straight contests entering Tuesday’s matchup. That ranked as the league’s lone active streak longer than two games.
That’s finally over — barely — after San Antonio limited Phoenix to 114 points.
Over the first 21 seasons of the Popovich’s tenure, the Spurs gave up the league’s fewest 120-point games (33). San Antonio has allowed 120 points or more on 145 occasions since 2018-19, ranking among the five worst in the NBA over that span.
The Spurs hoped to alleviate some defensive woes with their tall-ball starting five that featured Jeremy Sochan running the point.
So far, not so good.
But it’s an experiment San Antonio remains committed to just four games into the season. For at least one night, Johnson’s heroics erased past struggles, especially Sunday’s 30-point loss to the LA Clippers.
“We just kept playing and that’s the best thing about the group,” Popovich said.
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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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