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Victor Wembanyama has his moments, but Kings have last word in win over San Antonio Spurs

The NBA has never seen anyone quite like Victor Wembanyama, the 7-foot-4 French phenom who possesses an 8-foot wingspan and an astonishing combination of size, length and skills.

The leading Rookie of the Year candidate came to Sacramento for the first time in his career Thursday as the Kings played host to the San Antonio Spurs in their first game since the All-Star break. Wembanyama and fourth-year guard Devin Vassell had their moments, but the Kings had the last word.

Domantas Sabonis posted his league-leading 19th triple-double of the season and De’Aaron Fox made a critical defensive play in the final minute, lifting the Kings to a 127-122 victory before a sellout crowd of 18,153 at Golden 1 Center. Sacramento trailed by four with just over two minutes remaining before ending the game with an 11-2 run.

“Our guys just kind of found a way tonight,” Kings coach Mike Brown said. “It wasn’t pretty at all. ... We could have folded or threw in the towel, but our guys stayed with it and found a way.”

Fox had 28 points on 12-of-18 shooting with five rebounds, nine assists, two steals and one big blocked shot. Sabonis finished with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, recording his seventh triple-double in the past 10 games.

Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk scored 21 points apiece for Sacramento. Keegan Murray added 16.

The Kings (32-23) are still eighth in the Western Conference with 27 games remaining, but they moved within a half game of the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns, who are tied for sixth.

“This is really the home stretch,” Huerter said. “... We need every game. We’re in a dogfight here in the West and we can feel the urgency of every game.”

Vassell had 32 points and seven assists for the Spurs (11-45). Wembanyama had 19 points on 8-of-21 shooting with 13 rebounds, four assists and five blocked shots. Keldon Johnson came off the bench to score 18 points. Jeremy Sochan had 16 points and eight rebounds.

When it was over, the Kings couldn’t help but marvel at Wembanyama’s otherworldly size and agility.

“Nothing can prepare you for that type of length,” Fox said. “It doesn’t’ matter who you play against. If it’s not Wemby, nothing prepares you for that.”

Brown concurred.

“He’s a generational talent,” Brown said. “At that size, I still don’t know how he moves. I watch him and I just don’t think it’s real. Obviously, it is because he’s putting up the numbers and he’s doing it right in front of my face. He’s definitely great for the NBA. I wish he was in the East ... but just a treat for everybody to come and see a guy with that size do the things he can do.”

Sabonis, initially listed as doubtful due to illness, won the battle against Wembanyama after being cleared to play 30 minutes before tipoff. Sabonis recorded his 38th consecutive double-double, the fourth-longest streak since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976.

San Antonio tried to get Wembanyama going early, but he struggled against the veteran presence of Sabonis. Wembanyama went 1 of 6 from the field to start the game after having his first shot blocked by Sabonis. The Kings took an early seven-point lead, but the Spurs led 32-30 after shooting 53.8% in the first period.

The Kings went up early in the second quarter and carried a 65-57 lead into the halftime break. They had trouble with Vassell, who had 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting in the half, but Wembanyama was held to eight points on 4-of-11 shooting.

The Kings went up by 11 in the third quarter and led 93-87 going into the fourth. The Spurs cut the deficit to two on a number of occasions before tying the game on a 3-pointer by Johnson with 3:37 remaining.

San Antonio took the lead on a three-point play by Wembanyama with 2:53 to go. There were some anxious moments after Vassell hit a tough 3-pointer to put the Spurs up 120-116, but Monk made a floater, Fox buried a stepback 3-pointer and Murray threw down a dunk on a lob from Fox to fuel a 9-0 run.

That’s when Fox made one of Sacramento’s biggest defensive plays of the year. Fox was beaten on a backdoor cut by Vassell, but he recovered in time to block Vassell’s dunk attempt with 44.1 seconds to go.

Huerter called it “one of the freakiest defensive plays I’ve ever seen up close,” saying there are only “a handful of guys in the league” who can make that play.

“I was trying to deny,” Fox said. “He’s a good cutter so he got backdoor. It’s just not giving up on the play. It was either you do that or try to foul him, don’t let him get his arms up, but I just went for the ball. ... I feel like I have pretty good recovery speed. I knew he was going for the dunk, so there wasn’t much movement that was going to happen, so I just swung and I was able to get it.”

Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox (5) and center Domantas Sabonis (10) celebrate a basket during an NBA game against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday at Golden 1 Center.
Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox (5) and center Domantas Sabonis (10) celebrate a basket during an NBA game against the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday at Golden 1 Center.

3-point defense

Defending the 3-point line will be a huge point of emphasis for Sacramento coming out of the All-Star break. The Kings were 29th in the NBA in 3-point field-goal percentage defense after allowing opponents to shoot 41.8% over the first 54 games.

“It’s a challenge for us for the rest of the year and not just tonight,” Brown said. “We tried to set the tone yesterday in practice and the day before in practice. It’s something we know we need to get better at. It probably cost us four to six games this year, so for us to be better in that area is a must if we want to accomplish some of the goals we think we can get to.”

The Spurs went 5 of 10 from 3-point range in the first half and 6 of 15 in the second half. They finished 11 of 25, shooting 44%.

Fox’s shoulder

Fox confirmed earlier this week he has been dealing with an unspecified right shoulder injury for quite some time. He said the All-Star break wasn’t long enough for the shoulder to heal, but he described the injury as minor and said it wasn’t serious enough to require an MRI.

Up next

The Kings will visit the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday at Crypto.com Arena before returning to Sacramento to face the Miami Heat on the second night of a back-to-back Monday at Golden 1 Center.

The Clippers (36-18) suffered a 129-107 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday. They will visit the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. The Clippers were one of the hottest teams in the league before the All-Star break, winning 11 of 14 and 19 of 24 dating back to Dec. 26.

Upcoming schedule

Feb. 25 at Los Angeles Clippers

Feb. 26 vs. Miami Heat

Feb. 28 at Denver Nuggets

March 1 at Minnesota Timberwolves

March 4 vs. Chicago Bulls