But with 4:21 remaining, they found themselves tied at 116. That’s when No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama took over and made sure the Spurs left the Footprint Center with a victory.
San Antonio responded with a 12-0 run, with Wembanyama scoring 10 of those points, as the Spurs defeated the Suns 132-121.
Wembanyama is 15-of-19 in the fourth quarter this season. His 78.9% is the best in the league among the 117 NBA players who have attempted 10 field goals in the fourth.
Before his first preseason game, Wembanyama was asked if he felt he was a clutch player. He said he was and the league hadn’t seen the best of him yet. When reminded of that on Thursday, he smiled.
“It’s a requirement,” he said, “if we’re being ambitious.”
San Antonio jumped to a 27-point lead in the first half, but in the reverse of Tuesday’s game when the Spurs came back from 21 down, the Suns came charging back. Unlike Tuesday, Phoenix couldn’t close it out.
Former Spur Keita Bates-Diop hit a corner 3-pointer with 4:21 to go, tying the score for the first time. After that, Wembanyama went into action.
He was fouled on the next two possessions, making three of his four free throws. On the next Phoenix possession, Wembanyama caused a deflection and then delivered a left-handed dunk.
Wembanyama put the finishing touches on his performance with a 3-pointer and another shot in the lane to push the Spurs’ advantage back to 12.
In just his fifth career game, Wembanyama finished with 38 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks on 15-of-26 shooting.
“Every game is different,” Wembanyama said. “We got our third win. Every game we try to find the spots that we need to hurt them. Today, it might have been in this way. Tomorrow, it will be someone else. That is how great teams work. If we want to be great, we need to play with everyone.”
Wembanyama’s 38 points are tied for the third-most scored by a rookie in Spurs history. Only David Robinson had more than Wembanyama, with games of 41 and 39 points in 1990.
The Spurs played the final 6:04 without a timeout after coach Gregg Popovich used two in the fourth quarter to settle his team as Phoenix made its late push.
Popovich commended his team for sticking through the adversity. He said his squad took a “gut punch” from the Suns and credited Durant and Devin Booker for getting the Suns back in the game.
“For about three minutes there offensively, we lost our composure, which allowed them to run and do whatever,” Popovich said. “But we hung in there, got our solid play back the last three, four minutes. So, for a young team that needs to learn that in the fourth quarter, that was the best part of the game against a very good club.”
Tuesday was Booker’s first game back after missing the past three games with a left ankle sprain. Booker had 31 points and 13 assists in 35 minutes.
Booker called Wembanyama an “unbelievable talent.”
“Just trying to figure out what he is because we have never seen him before,” Booker said. “We got him early in the season, and hopefully next time that we play him we can make some adjustments to make it tougher on him. But he has an advantage being 7-4 and being able to shoot over everybody. Just finding different ways to make it tough on him.”
The Spurs played the second half without guard Devin Vassell, who entered the night as the team’s leading scorer and had 17 in the first half, because of a left groin tightness.
Popovich said Vassell will get an MRI on Wednesday, but the team could be without him for “a little while.”
“The groin is one of those things where it can take a while and he wasn’t sure,” Popovich said. “He thought he could play, but I told him to go out and warm it up and to be honest with me, if it loosened up and how it felt, and he said he just couldn’t go on it.”