Sports

Victor Wembanyama finally got a win against Chet Holmgren

Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren play for teams that occupy two very different places in the Western Conference standings. The San Antonio Spurs are going to be in the running for a second-consecutive No. 1 overall pick. The Oklahoma City Thunder are a game behind the Minnesota Timberwolves for the top seed in the conference, and Holmgren teammate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander might win MVP. Wembanyama’s rookie season as an individual player has been better than Holmgren’s, but the playoff-bound Spurs had throttled the Thunder in two previous meetings.

On Thursday night, the Spurs won their 12th game of the season with a 132-118 victory over the Thunder. A big reason for the surprise win was the two teams inverting 3-point shooting ability for a night. The Spurs are the worst team in the league from behind the arc and shot nearly 49 percent from long range on Thursday. At almost 40 percent, the Thunder have converted from the 3-point line at a better rate than any team in the NBA this season. They made less than 30 percent of their threes in the loss, though.

Through three quarters, the Thunder shot just as poorly as they did in the fourth quarter, but they managed to enter the final 12 minutes down only two points. Wembanyama played every minute in the fourth and made several massive plays while leading his team to their first win in more than two weeks. He scored eight points and filled out the stat sheet with three rebounds, three assists and two blocks in the quarter.

What made Wembanyama so effective in the fourth quarter is that he was stringing big plays together on both sides of the floor. When the Spurs were up three with just over four minutes to play, he recorded an assist on a Tre Jones 3-pointer, defended Gilgeous-Alexander on a play that I thought should have been a block in real time, and then came down the court and hit a three.

Shortly after that sequence, Wembanyama hit another shot from behind the arc and picked up Holmgren at the top of the key. As hard as the giant in Thunder blue tried, he couldn’t shake the giant in white. Wembanyama stuffed Holmgren’s midrange attempt.

This battle between the two favorites for Rookie of the Year was so thrilling that Inside the NBA led with that non-nationally televised game as opposed to the late game aired on TNT. The recap the show bumped was an NBA Finals rematch between the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets that was decided in the final minutes.

Wembanyama finished the night with 28 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, two steals and five blocks on 52.9/71.4./71.4 shooting splits. Holmgren was not half stepping with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists, but he made only one three and attempted no free throws. The night belonged to the young man from France.

Wembanyama has probably lost more basketball games this season than he has in his entire life, but he has powered through all of those defeats this season, and has always stepped up to the challenge against Holmgren. For all of the struggles he has dealt with in first NBA season, dominating the player that he is most compared to must be a great feeling.

The Spurs front office has a lot of work ahead of them if they want to be as good as the Thunder. And they had better get to work quickly if they want Wembanyama to play more than half of his career in south Texas. This top draft pick has been great all season, and put the exclamation point on with his first win over a rival by making game-winning plays against him.



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