If you had the entire NBA at your disposal, who would you want as your closer in the last five minutes of a tie game? For the past decade or so, the most popular answer to that question has been Kevin Durant. It makes sense. When half-court defenses tighten up, you want the legendary shooter with a seven-foot frame that nobody can defend. But let's take Durant off of the table for a second. How far down the list is Devin Booker? His Suns had the NBA's best clutch offensive rating by far during the 2021-22 season, and he's coming off a (albeit brief) postseason shooting run.
Well, the Phoenix Suns have both of them. And the San Antonio Spurs? They have a rookie. A pretty special rookie, mind you, but a rookie nonetheless. Entering Thursday's tilt with the Suns, Wembanyama had played a grand total of 15 career "clutch" minutes as defined by NBA.com. To call a fourth-quarter staredown between Wembanyama and Phoenix's double-barreled clutch time shotgun a mismatch would be an understatement. I say that, of course, because Durant and Booker stood no chance whatsoever against the best rookie the NBA has seen in decades.
Let's set the scene here. Wembanyama re-enters the game at the 6:21 mark of the fourth quarter. Wembanyama, being the overachiever that he is, already has 28 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. So he decides to give his teammates a chance to close the game out. This was the wrong choice. A 111-106 lead when he returned to the game quickly became a 116-116 tie thanks to some clutch shotmaking by Durant, Booker and Keita Bates-Diop. So Wembanyama looks the Suns in the eye, straps on his infinity gauntlet and thinks "fine, I'll do it myself."
The next two possessions produce free throws for Wembanyama. He makes three of the four. He then rebounds a Drew Eubanks miss, gets into position offensively, and when Zach Collins spins his way into trouble, bails out his teammate with a timely cut and a thunderous dunk.
Oh, is the 7-foot-4 giant dunking not novel enough for you? Okay, let's fast forward a bit. Durant misses a jumper. Collins puts two more points on the board. Jeremy Sochan blocks Booker. Spurs lead by seven. Correction: Spurs lead by 10, because Wembanyama's next trick is to shake off Eubanks for a pull-up 3-pointer.
A 10-point lead with under two minutes to play is pretty safe, but remember, Durant and Booker are on the other side here. San Antonio is going to need another bucket to put this thing on ice. Well, get Victor his champagne (or whatever the legal equivalent for a 19-year-old would be) because after using a cross-screen from Collins to free himself for a mid-range jumper, he buries it to extend the lead to 12. Game over. Spurs 132, Suns 121.
In around three minutes of game action, Wembanyama scored 10 of his team's 12 points to out-duel two of the NBA's best scorers in the fourth quarter of his fifth career game. Naturally, he made plenty of history in the process. Here are a few names he joined in NBA history on Thursday:
- Through five games, Wembanyama now has 103 career points. The only other Spurs rookie to cross that threshold? David Robinson.
- Only three teenagers have ever posted 35 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks in a game. The first was LeBron James. The second was Durant. The third was Wembanyama. If you include the three 3-pointers Wembanyama made, he stands alone among all rookies in NBA history with that stat line.
- . The last rookie to do that? Shaquille O'Neal.
We all knew Wembanyama was special coming into this game. There were always going to be a few magical moments during his rookie year that would give us a glimpse of what we all assume he will eventually become. But Wembanyama somehow managed to exceed even our wildest expectations on Thursday. He's already beating legends eight days into his career. Where will he be after eight weeks? Or eight years? The sky is seemingly the limit for a prospect who has more than lived up to the considerable hype that came with him to the NBA.