Dom. Feb 25th, 2024

SAN ANTONIO — Keldon Johnson took his seat at the postgame podium and interrupted the first question asked with a question of his own.

«That’s the number one team in the West, right?» the San Antonio Spurs forward asked.

Johnson’s Spurs, who had the worst record in the Western Conference entering Saturday, trailed by as many 15 points before coming from behind and holding on for a 113-112 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, who — as Johnson asked — entered the night tied for the best record in the West.

As the final buzzer sounded throughout the Frost Bank Center, Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama implored the crowd to get even louder as San Antonio secured back-to-back victories at home for the first time all season.

«This is the best win we’ve had,» Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

Wembanyama said if this wasn’t the best win, it was the win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 15 that snapped a franchise-record 18-game losing streak.

«But it is definitely a good one and I think tonight we have to feel proud about what we did and get used to the feeling so we can repeat it,» Wembanyama said.

San Antonio trailed by 15 in the first half and was down by 10 entering the fourth quarter but started the final frame on a 13-2 run to take a lead with 8:42 remaining. It remained a one-possession game until a Wembanyama 3-pointer gave the Spurs a five-point lead with 1:55 left.

With a chance to put even more distance between them late, the Spurs faltered. Wembanyama missed two free throws with 49.7 seconds left and Anthony Edwards hit a layup on the ensuing possession to tie the game at 112.

San Antonio missed a layup to go ahead, but in the scramble for the offensive rebound, Johnson was fouled. He made just one of his two free throws giving Minnesota a chance to take the lead.

On the final possession for the Timberwolves, the Spurs doubled Edwards after he crossed halfcourt, and he found Karl-Anthony Towns on the left wing. With Wembanyama guarding him, Towns created space with a step-back and attempted a 3-pointer for the win, but his shot hit the front of the rim.

«Everybody just scrambled and made s— happen,» Johnson said of the Spurs’ defense on the final play.

«We played for each other, we played together and as a team we stepped up and made big plays,» Johnson said. «So, coming down the stretch, we got stops and that was the main thing. That’s big time right there. That’s big time. We all did it together.»

Devin Vassell, who scored a team-high 25 points, said he can see the team starting to change and come around after a rough start to the season.

«I think we’re just growing and maturing,» Vassell said. «There would be times where teams go on a run and we put our heads down and almost get defeated already. Basketball is a game of runs. So right now, we’ve just been sticking with it. We’ve been playing 48 minutes.»

Wembanyama finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals. He was a plus-14 during his 8 minutes, 36 seconds in the fourth quarter.

It was the first time Wembanyama played a back-to-back since November. He had missed at least one half of the last four back-to-backs the Spurs had played, three since he started playing on a minutes restriction after spraining his ankle three times in a 12-day span.

Popovich said that Wembanyama’s minutes restrictions could be coming to an end soon. Wembanyama, who said his body felt «as good as we can ask for» after playing the back-to-back, said he knows the team will be smart with what comes next.

«I think it’s something we need to watch for the next 15, 20, 30 games,» Wembanyama said. «We’re going to see. I think I’m probably not going to play 45 minutes anytime soon.»


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