Keldon Johnson’s steal and score caps Spurs’ comeback vs. Suns

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Andreas LopezESPNNovember 1, 2023, 6:24 PM5 minutes reading

Spurs steal the win from Suns with a wild final scene

After Victor Wembanyama’s cutback, Keldon Johnson steals the ball from Kevin Durant and scores a lead for Spurs. Durant misses the winner and San Antonio has the upper hand.

PHOENIX — Keldon Johnson of the San Antonio Spurs knew he had to make a move.

After a Victor Wembanyama putback dunk cut the Phoenix Suns’ lead to just one point with 6.8 seconds left Tuesday night, Suns guard Josh Okogie passed the ball to Kevin Durant as Johnson shot out of bounds in an attempt to make the ball.

Spurs guard Tre Jones prevented Durant from advancing as Durant held the ball waiting for a San Antonio foul. Johnson came back into the game, took the ball away from Durant and drove the basket to lay the ball in with 1.2 to go, giving the Spurs a one-point lead.

Durant couldn’t get a good look on the ensuing possession and the Spurs completed a 20-point comeback and walked away with a 115-114 victory.

“I saw Tre had him in the corner, and I thought, let’s make a play,” Johnson said. “The worst that could happen was they called the foul and took free throws. But we had to make something happen. Time was running out. So my mentality was just play ball and then just try to finish. “

The Suns didn’t see the finish the same way.

“Yes, they fouled him. The officials didn’t call it,” Suns coach Frank Vogel told reporters after the game. “They hit him on the arm before the ball was ripped out of his hands, no penalty. But in a situation like that, we try to get the ball in to our 90% free throw shooter. And we did that. But That didn’t happen.” It doesn’t work.”

Vogel said the team did not use the timeout because Okogie’s inbound pass to Durant was a “safe only” inbound play. Okogie was only allowed to send the ball to Durant if he could get it there safely, which Durant did before Johnson stole.

When Vogel was told he had made a mistake, Durant said he still had to “hold on to the ball.”

“I expect them to fall into the trap,” Durant said, “but that’s out of my control. I’m trying to fix the game, but it happened so fast. I should have held on to it.’

Wembanyama, Johnson and Devin Vassell combined to score 25 points in the fourth quarter. It was Vassell’s long three-point attempt to equalize that led to Wembanyama’s pullback late on.

Vassell described the win, which came one game after the Spurs lost 40 at the LA Clippers on Sunday, as “huge.”

“It shows how much we fought all game,” Vassell said. “It wasn’t pretty; obviously at one point we were down 20, and we’re a young group. But we’re fighting and we’re hungry.”

Phoenix led by as many as 20 points in the third quarter, taking a 76-56 lead on an Eric Gordon 3-pointer. The Suns also led by 10 with 5:25 left in the game before the Spurs ended on an 18-7 run to seal the victory.

Vassell credited Johnson, who finished with a game-high 27 points, for energizing San Antonio and not letting the game turn into a repeat of Sunday’s performance.

“We weren’t going, and he just got us going,” Vassell said. “He brought the energy we needed. KJ, sometimes I feel like he’s lost. People don’t talk about him. I mean, Keldon Johnson, he’s a beast, and he really got us going in the second half.” “

Tuesday’s win was Gregg Popovich’s 1,652nd combined regular-season and playoff win as Spurs coach. According to research by the Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time in Popovich’s career as a head coach that his team trailed by three points in the final ten seconds of the fourth quarter and won the game in regulation.

The match also marked the first match between Wembanyama and Durant.

Durant beat Wembanyama a few times, including one play late in the first quarter when the rookie was guarding the veteran. As the buzz grew among the crowd at Footprint Center, Durant drove to his right, stopped and hit a faded jumper over Wembanyama’s outstretched arms for a bucket to end the frame.

Durant, who finished with 26 points, called Wembanyama a “unique player.”

“He’s going to be a force in this league for a long time,” Durant said. “Once he gets experience, he will get even better.”

Wembanyama had 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocks for San Antonio. He said Durant is “special” as a player and has a lot he can take away from him.

“I’ve learned that I haven’t mastered the game nearly as well as him because I tried to do things like him, but I think maybe I’m not patient enough,” Wembanyama said. “I think I want to go too fast, but he goes his own pace and goes to his places. I think I have to do that, not copy that, but be inspired by that.”

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