French phenomenon Victor Wembanyama poured in 38 points and came up big in the fourth quarter as the San Antonio Spurs held off a late Phoenix rally to beat the Suns 132-121 on Thursday.
Wembanyama, the number one draft pick playing in his fifth NBA game, notched 20 points in the first half as the Spurs pushed their advantage to as many as 27 on the way to a 75-55 lead at the break.
The towering 19-year-old then showed plenty of poise after the Suns roared back to tie the game at 116-116 on Keita Bates-Diop’s three-pointer with 4:21 remaining.
The Spurs responded with 12 straight points, 10 of them from Wembanyama, who produced three free-throws, a dunk, a three-pointer and a turnaround jump shot to put San Antonio back in charge.
“Somebody’s got to do it,” Wembanyama said of taking responsibility at the crucial moment. “Tomorrow it’s going to be one of my teammates.”
The burst was even more impressive than his highlight-reel dunk in the second quarter and back-to-back three-pointers to end the first half.
In all Wembanyama connected on 15 of 26 shots from the field and pulled down 10 rebounds with two blocked shots to help the Spurs notch their second win in three days over the Suns.
On Tuesday San Antonio erased a 20-point third-quarter deficit to stun Phoenix 115-114.
The two games reinforced what Wembanyama said was the biggest NBA lesson he’d learned so far — that “maybe a 20-point lead is nothing.”
On Thursday the Spurs never trailed, although it looked like the Suns might turn the tables as Devin Booker scored 21 of his 31 points in the second half and Kevin Durant scored 15 of his 28 after the break in a furious rally bid.
Booker, back from an ankle injury, added 13 rebounds and nine assists, but the Suns, hindered by 14 turnovers, never gained the lead.
“Of course there was the threat of Durant and Booker, that was our major concern playing the Suns, especially in the fourth quarter,” Wembanyama said.
“It worked really well in the first quarter — the energy we brought — so we really tried to find this again, to lock in, know our rotations, our tactics.”
Durant, the former NBA Most Valuable Player and an idol of Wembanyama’s, said he didn’t think the French youngster’s game was too heavily influenced by his own.
“I’m sure he said he watched me growing up, but he’s his own player,” Durant said.
“He’s going to create his own lane much different than anybody who’s ever played.”
Sixers top Raptors
Elsewhere, Joel Embiid scored 28 points and grabbed 13 rebounds to lead Philadelphia to a 114-99 victory over the Toronto Raptors in the 76ers’ first game since trading James Harden to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tobias Harris added 23 points apiece and Tyrese Maxey had 18 for the 76ers, who notched a third straight victory and improved to 3-1 in a young season that had so far been overshadowed by Harden’s trade demand.
Maxey insisted that Harden’s professionalism meant there were no distractions for a team adjusting to new coach Nick Nurse.
“Everybody was really focused on trying to get better,” Maxey said of pre-season preparations. “This is coach Nurse’s first year, so we were trying to learn schemes, learn how he thinks… there wasn’t much of a distraction at all.”
Nurse said before the game that from a competitive standpoint Harden’s trade to the Clippers “would have been better a month ago.”
Of the new arrivals in the deal — Nicolas Batum, Robert Covington, KJ Martin and Marcus Morris — only Covington and Martin entered the game, in the final minutes.
Reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Embiid made just eight of 22 shots from the floor but connected on 12 of 13 from the free-throw line and handed out seven assists.
Oubre started in place of PJ Tucker — who was part of the Harden trade — and connected on five of six three-point attempts.
In New Orleans, CJ McCollum scored 33 points to lead the Pelicans to a 125-116 victory over the Detroit Pistons.
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