Without making too much of a single regular-season contest, Spurs-Bucks on Thursday night was one of the best basketball games of the season, full of back-and-forth theatrics, uncanny shotmaking, and a slew of holy-hell-what-did-I-just-witness moments that anyone watching live won’t forget anytime soon.
VICTOR WEMBANYAMA IS UNREAL.— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) January 5, 2024
It was also the night people who didn’t think Victor Wembanyama should win Rookie of the Year because the San Antonio Spurs stink were convinced he is in fact the NBA’s best rookie … and should/could/will win Rookie of the Year. Celebrating his 20th birthday with 27 points, nine rebounds, and five blocks in [scans box score as both eyes fall out of their sockets] just 26 minutes, the reigning no. 1 pick spent pockets of the game as a question the Milwaukee Bucks had no answer for, regularly doing stuff on both ends that was so breathtaking that it left Gregg Popovich without a frame of reference. During his in-game TV interview, Pop was asked whether he’d ever seen anything like this before. He had not.
Well alright Victor Wembanyama pic.twitter.com/0fPLKwMXJ3— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) January 5, 2024
If not for a pair of back-to-back crunch-time 3s by Giannis Antetokounmpo (who finished with a ho-hum 44 points, 14 boards, and seven assists), San Antonio would have left the arena with just its sixth win of the season. Instead it came up just short, falling 125-121. The rebuilding Spurs have been very bad, but they looked competent, if not halfway decent, throughout Tre Jones’s first start of the season. A lot of that was thanks to Devin Vassell, who went 6-for-9 from behind the arc and scored 34 points. And a lot of it is because Wembanyama is an unprecedented phenom who can block a corner 3 on one play and then back giant Brook Lopez down in the post and make him look pint-sized a few minutes later. This is a 7-foot-4 human back-cutting a two-time MVP out of his Nikes:
VICTOR WEMBANYAMA WITH AUTHORITY pic.twitter.com/FbaFSxBGtD— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPoints) January 5, 2024
Not to downplay anything Antetokounmpo did—superstars tend to get taken for granted during random games in early January—but the final 90 seconds were a momentous breakout for Wemby. This sequence, in particular, captured why there is no ceiling here, no worthy physical comparison or sensible way to rationalize and comprehend how dominant he could eventually be.
WEMBY BLOCK INTO 3 TIES IT UP.— NBA (@NBA) January 5, 2024
Bucks-Spurs on TNT pic.twitter.com/1WFaT2wU9N
Wemby tied the game at 121-121 with a transition 3 right after he smeared Damian Lillard’s layup on the backboard. Giannis would get his revenge with a savage and-1 dunk that put Milwaukee up for good, but Wembanyama saved one more highlight that might have been his most impressive of all. About 40 seconds later, Wemby met Antetokounmpo 11 feet off the ground to record his fifth block of the night.
VICTOR WEMBANYAMA WITH THE REJECTION ON GIANNIS pic.twitter.com/mAgv6pUumv— Ahn Fire Digital (@AhnFireDigital) January 5, 2024
NBA players don’t do this to Giannis often, if ever. Particularly in a moment when the outcome hangs in the balance like it did Thursday.
“He’s unbelievable,” Giannis said in his walk-off interview. “Unbelievable talent.” The Bucks won because they had the best player. Sooner rather than later, the Spurs may be able to say the same thing, regardless of who they’re up against.