3 takeaways as Devin Vassell pours in 31 points and Victor Wembanyama records five blocks in Spurs’ win over Jazz

Devin Vassell, base de los Spurs de San Antonio, avanza frente a Keyonte George, del Jazz de Utah, el miércoles 27 de marzo de 2024 (AP Foto/Rick Bowmer)
Devin Vassell, base de los Spurs de San Antonio, avanza frente a Keyonte George, del Jazz de Utah, el miércoles 27 de marzo de 2024 (AP Foto/Rick Bowmer)Rick Bowmer/AP

SALT LAKE CITY — Devin Vassell had 31 points and six assists, Victor Wembanyama finished with 19 points and five blocks and the Spurs held on to beat the reeling Utah Jazz 118-111 on Wednesday night for their second win in a row.

The Spurs showed some maturity by repeatedly answering runs by the Jazz, including a late-game push that came up short thanks in part to Tre Jones hitting a pair of free throws with 20.1 seconds after Utah pulled within 115-111 on Lauri Markkanen’s pull-up 3-pointer.

That was the second time the Jazz pulled within four after the Spurs won the first quarter 29-15.

“It just goes to show we are getting better each game,” said Vassell, who recorded his sixth 30-point game of the season. “It is late in the season and obviously we don’t have many games left, but it’s great to show improvement. I would say from the All-Star break on, we have been almost a totally different team. A couple of games where it got out of hand, the Denver game, Phoenix. But besides that, we have been really locked in and it’s been a couple of possessions where we could have won the game or lost the game.”

Wembanyama returned after a one-game absence due to a sprained left ankle. He scored 11 points in the second half after struggling to find his rhythm in the early going.

“It’s always the challenge for me, moving my body after having a game off,” Wembanyama. “Also, I think the altitude made it a little bit hard for all of us to keep the pace.”

In addition to Vassell and Wembanyama, the Spurs got double-digit scoring from Jeremy Sochan, Julian Champagnie and Malaki Branham, all of whom finished with 17 points.

Champagnie matched his season high, and coach Gregg Popovich singled out Branham for his play off the bench on a night the Spurs were without sixth man Keldon Johnson (sore right knee).

“Malaki came in and got three or four buckets when we needed to score,” Popovich said. “We were having a tough time, so he deserves a lot of credit for keeping us going offensively.”

Collin Sexton had 26 points for the Jazz, who fell to 29-44 with their seventh loss in a row. Markkanen finished with 25 points.

The Spurs (17-56) had a season-best 40 assists on 44 made baskets. They shot 51.8 percent on 85 attempts.

“That’s Spurs basketball, the Spurs way,” Vassell said. “Pop preaches it all the time, extra pass, one more and whoever is open, get the open shot. We were knocking down shots today and everybody was sharing it.”

Here are three takeaways from the Spurs’ first true road game since March 9 (they played two “home” games in Austin in that span):

Vassell showcases offensive skills in two-game stretch

Vassell completed one of his best two-game stretches of the season.

Coming off a 26-point performance in Monday’s win over Phoenix and with Wembanyama struggling to find his rhythm, Vassell continued to seek points aggressively against the Jazz, who he has played well against all season.

In a team-high 39 minutes, he hit 12 of 20 from the field, 4 of 8 from 3-point range and 3 of 4 from the free-throw line.

“He had to guard Sexton a lot, so I was afraid he might get too tired to shoot the damn thing,” Popovich said. “But he pushed through and was a monster at both ends.”

The fourth-year guard recorded one of the season’s best baskets when he hit a one-legged, contested corner 3 with 9.4 seconds left in the first half on an inbounds play.

“I actually work on that a lot,” he said. “It might sound cliché, but I work on a lot of crazy shots. That’s why when people say I shoot some crazy shots, it’s because I shoot and work on a lot of crazy shots. At least one finally went in.”

In the third quarter, he notched another gem when he exploded for a baseline tomahawk slam with about five minutes left in the third after receiving a nifty bounce pass from Zach Collins.

It was Vassell’s third game of 20-plus against Utah this season. He scored 22 points on 8 of 18 (5 of 10) against them on Dec. 26 and 27 points on on 10 of 19 (4 of 8) on Feb. 25.

Wembanyama’s rim protection is always there

Wembanyama finished with five blocks, but he may have been robbed of another one.

With 7.2 seconds left and the Spurs nursing a 117-111 lead, Taylor Hendricks soared for a dunk only to be met at the rim by both Wembanyama and Sochan, who received credit for the block.

Replays showed that Wembanyama may have actually touched the ball first, with Sochan forcefully swatting it away.

Either way, it was a mistake by Hendricks, Wembanyama said.

“Regardless of the challenge of sometimes wanting to dunk on your opponent, it was a bad choice, I think…You got to be smart,” Wembanyama said.

Said Vassell,  “He went to go dunk on him and we know that’s not going to happen.”

Wembanyama, who leads the NBA in blocks, has recorded at least one in 32 games in a row.

“I get on him sometimes, I say, ‘Vic, why didn’t you block that shot?’ and he’s already had five or six blocks,” Vassell said. “It’s just crazy the stuff that we ask of him and expect of him, but he’s put himself at that level. We expect it from him night in and night out.”

G League support underscores team unity

Keldon Johnson, Jeremy Sochan, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Malaki Branham, Blake Wesley and Julian Champagnie easily could have stayed at their hotel room Tuesday night, watched some TV and called it an early night for some much-needed rest.

But instead of kicking back, they journeyed over to the Delta Center to support the Austin Spurs in their game against the Salt Lake City Stars on a rare night when the Spurs were in the same city as their G League affiliate.

That Johnson, Sochan and Co. would spend their night off rooting on Austin says a lot about the supportive, inclusive culture the Spurs enjoy.

“I appreciate them showing us some love,” said second-round rookie forward Siddy Cissoko, who the Spurs recalled for Wednesday’s game after he finished with 22 points, five rebounds and two assists in Austin’s 113-108 loss Tuesday night.

“I love them. We are brothers. We had a tough game and we are trying to make the playoffs, so they did a great job to support us. They were here all game. I am proud of them.”

With the exception of Sochan, all the Spurs players at the game spent time in the G League either with the Spurs or in the case of Mamukelashvili and Champagnie with other NBA clubs. Mamukelashvili also played in one game for Austin this year, dominating in a 124-122 win over the Texas Legends with 34 points, 22 rebounds, four assists and two blocks.

“I used to play in the G League and I used to love when my Bucks teammates would come and support me,” Mamukelashvili said. “I understand how it is. It is a long season for them with a lot of ups and downs. I feel like they are the warriors who go out there and hoop every day no matter what. Just having a chance to go out there and help them and support them and have their back, I felt like it was a great night. A lot of people showed up and we supported our guys.”

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