Indeed, we’ve seen flashes of brilliance from San Antonio Spurs’ rookie sensation, Victor Wembanyama.
However, the 19-year-old unveiled a breathtaking performance on Thursday, leading the charge in a dominant 132-121 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
With a career-best 38 points, Wembanyama matched the third-highest scoring record by a rookie in Spurs’ history, trailing only Hall of Famer David Robinson in first-season point totals.
Here are five key points to take away from this thrilling matchup:
1. Victor Wembanyama takes over
Ducking beneath the doorframe as he exited the bustling postgame interview area, Wembanyama quickly stopped at his locker, taking a hefty gulp from a transparent plastic bottle.
His efforts were well deserved, having effectively thwarted Phoenix’s attempt at a comeback from a staggering 27-point deficit.
With just 4 minutes and 21 seconds left on the clock, the former Spur Keita Bates-Diop sank a 23-foot shot, equalizing the score at 116.
Wembanyama swiftly responded by contributing 10 of San Antonio’s following 12 points, pushing the score to 128-116 with a remarkable 18-foot turnaround jumper and only 1 minute and 35 seconds remaining.
A mere twelve seconds later, the audience at Footprint Center began making their way towards the exits. “Somebody’s got to do it,” the rookie commented on his takeover during the fourth quarter. Wembanyama’s performance in the final frame included a 3-for-4 shooting record, three rebounds, and a notable block.
His cumulative total of 39 points across the last five games (ranking him fifth in the NBA) was achieved through an impressive 15-for-19 shooting record.
Additionally, Wembanyama secured his place in NBA history as the eighth player to earn 85-plus points, 35-plus rebounds, and 10-plus blocks in the first five games of his career.
2. Wembanyama started fast, too
Wembanyama broke his trend of sluggish beginnings in the second matchup of the Spurs-Suns series, which kicked off on Tuesday with a nail-biting 115-114 victory.
The promising newcomer swiftly amassed an impressive 20 points during the initial two quarters, exhibiting a sharp 8-of-14 shooting, securing five rebounds, two assists, a block, and a steal. Notably, he managed to sink 2 out of 3 attempted 3-pointers while treating the audience to a few memorable dunks.
Notably, Wembanyama had been averaging a mere 5.3 points on a lackluster 28% shooting in the opening halves of the team’s preceding four matches.
On the defensive end, Wembanyama joined an elite club, including only two other teenagers, Kevin Durant and LeBron James, since the tracking of blocks began in the 1973-74 season, who have achieved 35-plus points, ten rebounds, and two blocks in a single game.
Besides his explosive start, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made sure Wembanyama finished with finesse as well.
“We had him and Zach [Collins] playing together in the last three minutes,” Popovich disclosed. “We just kept running that same play repeatedly. However, we managed to secure a few crucial stops at the opposite end of the court.”
3. Brilliant Devin Booker return spoiled
Devin Booker returned triumphantly, igniting San Antonio’s torment as the driving force behind the Suns’ remarkable resurgence from a daunting 27-point lag. The 27-year-old swiftly rebounded from a sprained left ankle sustained during the season opener, delivering an impressive team-leading 31 points.
“Look at that, they lose a game, and suddenly this happens,” Popovich commented on Booker’s unexpected availability on Thursday, following the recent defeat of his team just two days earlier. “He had told me he wouldn’t return for at least a week. What a prankster.”
Teamed up with Durant, Booker and the Suns orchestrated a determined charge, gradually eroding the sizable lead held by the Spurs. Despite the astonishing recovery from the 27-point deficit, Phoenix faltered, managing only one successful shot out of 7 attempts to conclude the game.
Booker remained on the court for 35 minutes, producing his 16th game in his career with an impressive tally of at least 30 points and 10 assists. Durant contributed 28 points, six rebounds, and two blocks, playing for 37 minutes.
This defeat marked Durant’s fourth consecutive game, wherein he achieved an impressive score of at least 25 points.
4. Varied experiences continue to mold young Spurs
San Antonio dominated most of their season-opening game against Dallas, only to be thwarted by late-game heroics from Luka Doncic and falter in the crucial moments.
However, they quickly redeemed themselves in Game 2 with an overtime victory over the Houston Rockets.
Their fortunes took a downturn with a decisive loss to the LA Clippers on the road.
The encounters at Phoenix brought contrasting outcomes. On one occasion, the Spurs orchestrated an impressive 20-point comeback, showcasing their resilience and composure in the clutch.
Yet, in the subsequent game, despite establishing a 27-point lead with Booker’s return, they had to weather a fierce battle in the final quarter to stave off the charging Suns.
Reflecting on the team’s journey, Popovich emphasized the importance of such trials and tribulations in the learning process. “You’ve got to be in it when the lights are on, mess it up, and eventually get it right,” he remarked.
Despite the setbacks, he highlighted how the adversity overcome by the young San Antonio team served as a valuable learning experience.
When the Spurs reached a 39-18 advantage late in the first quarter, courtesy of a Devin Vassell 3-pointer, it signified their first 20-point lead.
5. Popovich calls Walter Davis’ one of the great ones’
Popovich was informed of the passing of Walter Davis, the former Phoenix Suns guard-forward, approximately 90 minutes before the game on Thursday. “
He was indeed one of the greats,” expressed the coach. “Especially here in Phoenix, he left an indelible mark: a remarkable player and an exceptional human being.
It’s genuinely saddening news.” Davis, who played college basketball at North Carolina under the guidance of coach Dean Smith, passed away due to natural causes, as per the statement released by the university.
In memory of Davis, the Suns observed silence before the game. Notably, Davis, a six-time NBA All-Star, was the No. 5 overall pick by the Suns in the 1977 draft.
His remarkable rookie season, during which he averaged 24.2 points per game, has led to him being awarded the NBA Rookie of the Year. With 11 of his 16 seasons spent in Phoenix, the Suns retired his No. 6 jersey in 2004.