How Victor Wembanyama’s jaw-dropping fourth quarter led Spurs to improbable win over one of NBA’s best teams


We’ve seen this story thousands of times throughout NBA history — probably dozens this season, even. A bad team gets a lead on an opponent it has no business beating. The crowd then goes crazy, thinking the upset could be on the way. Instead, the lead slowly evaporates in the fourth quarter until, inevitably, the better team comes out on top.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about San Antonio Spurs phenom Victor Wembanyama, it’s that he’s going to write his own story. Even against a team that has 30 more wins than his own.

After leading by as many as 12 points in the third quarter of their home matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night, the Spurs watched their lead disappear, trailing by three with just over nine minutes remaining. This is typically when the better team and its MVP candidate, in this case Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, exerts its will, breaks the spirit of the plucky underdog and ends up winning by double-digits.

Not in Wemby’s house.

The 7-foot-4 Rookie of the Year favorite went to work, orchestrating one of the most dominant two-way fourth quarters we’ve seen from any player this season as he led San Antonio to a 132-118 win. Let’s break down everything the 20-year-old did down the stretch to help the Spurs clinch the upset.

6:13 – Dish to Sochan

Wembanyama helped extend the Spurs’ lead to three points on a sequence that displayed both his patience and unselfishness. As he stood at the free throw line extended, he drew two defenders and simply watched as the play unfolded. Wembanyama is such an imposing figure that Thunder guard Josh Giddey got caught staring at him, giving Jeremy Sochan just enough time to slip around him and convert an alley-oop layup on a pinpoint pass from his big man.

3:32 – Alters SGA’s dunk

It’s hard to imagine that Gilgeous-Alexander has missed many dunk attempts this season, but Wembanyama will make anyone think twice when he’s around the rim. As Gilgeous-Alexander slides through the defense, he takes one last look at Wembanyama, who helps contest what would have otherwise been an easy bucket.

3:23 – Pull-up from the logo

Just seconds after altering Gilgeous-Alexander’s dunk, Wembanyama caught the ball with his heels on the logo, in good position to initate the offense. Instead, he took one step forward and launched a 28-foot bomb that gave the Spurs a nine-point lead.

2:10 – Dagger 3-pointer

With OKC still hanging around, Wembanyama executed a play that shows exactly why he’s so special offensively. After his crossover forced Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren to backpedal, Wembanyama went right into a dribble hand-off with Devin Vassell. His screen caused Lu Dort to trail Vassell in coverage, as Holmgren dropped into the paint. That gave Wembanyama the perfect window to pop into open space, where he knocked down a wing 3-pointer over Holmgren’s outstretched arm that put the Spurs back up by nine and sealed the San Antonio win.

1:50 – Stuffs Chet’s jumper

As if his offensive exploits weren’t enough, Wembanyama punctuated the victory with a tremendous, statement play on the defensive end. First, he stays with every move that Holmgren tries to make off the dribble. Then, when Holmgren thinks his step-back has created just enough space to get a shot off, Wembanyama absolutely palms his jumper, sending Holmgren to the floor as Wembanyama stares at his bench in triumph.

The victory seems all the more significant since Holmgren is Wembanyama’s primary competition for Rookie of the Year. While the OKC big man had the early lead in the race, partly due to his team’s success, Wembanyama’s play over his last 25 games entering Thursday night (23 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and 3.5 blocks in fewer than 28 minutes per game) has made it clear that it’s his award to lose.

His fourth quarter against OKC also shows that he’s more than a good stats-bad team guy. He tends to show up in big moments like this, however rare they’ve been for the Spurs this season, which bodes well for his potential as a franchise centerpiece for years to come.

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