Wemby outduels Holmgren, seals win in clutch

NBA

SAN ANTONIO — In front of their home fans for the first time in 26 days, the San Antonio Spurs and rookie Victor Wembanyama put on quite the show.

After giving up a 12-point third-quarter lead and falling behind in the fourth, the Spurs stormed back for a 132-118 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Wembanyama put his stamp on the victory with a 3-pointer with 2:10 left to put San Antonio up nine and then a block on the Thunder’s Chet Holmgren 20 seconds later.

Wembanyama finished with 28 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 blocks and was 5-of-7 from 3-point range. He became the first player in NBA history to have at least 25 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 blocks and 5 3-pointers in a game.

Down the stretch, the Spurs were constantly putting the ball in the 7-foot-4 rookie’s hands, and he made the plays to help them get the victory.

“I would say it’s a requisite for any player who wants to be great,” Wembanyama said about wanting the ball down the stretch. “I mean most players in the league, they’ve been through a lot of challenges, and I mean I’ve been through a lot of challenges in my life, in my basketball life, so it’s something you have to live with. It is what it is. So you want to be great or you don’t.”

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Wembanyama isn’t afraid to put himself in the position to decide the game when the time calls for it.

“He’ll take shots. He’s not worried about if he misses it, what the consequences are, anything like that,” Popovich said. “And he likes those moments.”

Wembanyama became the third player to average 20 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 blocks over a seven-game span since 1973-74, joining David Robinson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

It was also the third time this month Wembanyama had 25 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 blocks in a game. The only other two players to do that in a month since blocks became official were Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Hakeem Olajuwon.

“That kid is special,” Spurs guard Devin Vassell said.

For the second consecutive game, Wembanyama played the entire fourth quarter. It was just the second time he’d done that all season, and even he wasn’t sure about it after the game.

“But at the end of the game, I think I played maybe the last five, six minutes of the game and I hesitated to request a sub, but I told myself to just lock in and get over it because eventually I’m going to have to play those minutes,” Wembanyama said at first.

When it was pointed out he played the entire fourth quarter, Wembanyama called it “a bigger improvement” than he thought.

“I think a month ago playing the whole fourth quarter wouldn’t have been possible while staying competitive for me,” Wembanyama said. “So it’s a good improvement. We’re definitely going on the right path now as a team.”

Thursday’s game was the Spurs’ first home game since Feb. 3 because of their long-standing rodeo road trip. The Spurs spent the nine previous games on the road, going 1-8, with the All-Star break in between.

“I think tonight was just playing with energy,” Spurs guard Tre Jones said. “Obviously we all heard the fans out there. It was nice to be back home after that month long road trip.”

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 31 points for Oklahoma City, his seventh consecutive 30-point game and his 44th 30-point game of the season, just three back of tying Kevin Durant for the most such games in a season in franchise history.

Holmgren, who had 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists, is the closest competitor to Wembanyama for the Rookie of the Year award.

Vassell was asked if he thought Wembanyama had the award locked up because of his performance Thursday.

“I feel like it’s been over, but I mean night in, night out, the stuff that he does, the impact that he has on both ends of the floor, big shot after big block, after whatever the case may be, I mean he doesn’t even look a rookie,” Vassell said. “I mean the shots that he shoots, the confidence that he has in his game is second to none, truthfully.”

Wembanyama said that winning the Rookie of the Year award is “very important” to him this season, but he declined to say whether he thought the race was over.

“No, because there’s still 22 games left,” Wembanyama said. “So no, it’s not over.”

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