Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Devonte’ Graham’s go-ahead floater pushes Spurs past Nuggets

Wembanyama’s 17-point 3rd quarter digs San Antonio out of 23-point hole
Courtesy Reginald Thomas II/San Antonio Spurs

Without many press conference opportunities due to minimal playing time, there haven’t been too many chances for Spurs guard Devonte’ Graham to shout out his uncle Darrell.

Though after hitting the go-ahead floater with 0.9 seconds remaining to push the Spurs over the Denver Nuggets 121-120 on Friday night, Graham made sure to make the most of his moment.

“He’s been wanting me to shout him out all season long. ‘I’m not playing, I’m not doing anything, I can’t shout you out,’” Graham said he’d tell his uncle. “Uncle Darrell, this is your shout out right here, brother.”

Graham’s game-winning shot capped off an epic Spurs (21-60) comeback, who trailed by as many as 23 points against the reigning NBA champion Nuggets (56-25). Victor Wembanyama led San Antonio with 34 points and 11 rebounds without the help of the team’s typical scoring leaders in Devin Vassell, Keldon Johnson and Jeremy Sochan, who all sat out with injuries. Contribution came elsewhere, though, with five other Spurs finishing in double-figure scoring, including Sandro Mamukelashvili’s 21 points and 11 boards.

“I’m really proud of them. They played a great second half, but they’ve done that all year. They don’t give in,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “Obviously with a lot of guys not there, we had a lot of people pick it up.

“You just go right down the line. Everybody contributed. They deserve it. They should all go get a beer or a coke.”

The Spurs trailed 81-60 with 8:05 left in the third quarter before Wembanyama scored 17 points in less than three minutes. After hitting a 3-pointer, Wemby scored off an alley-oop layup from Tre Jones before finishing off an and-1 play. He came down on the next possession and hit a deep 3, followed by two more to shorten the deficit to 87-79 with 5:22 in the frame.

The Nuggets built another double-digit lead in the fourth, seeming to put the game out of reach before the Spurs sparked a 14-2 run to set the score at 109-104. Graham pulled the game within three after a 3-pointer and Jones made a layup two offensive possessions later to trail 118-117. 

Down by three with under a minute to play, Graham made a driving layup with 30 seconds on the board. Denver’s Nikola Jokic missed a free-throw jumper, which was rebounded to Jones, who pushed the ball up the court to Graham who had a one-on-one against Jamal Murray. 

“I just saw Tre get the ball and I was already kind of ahead of everybody because everybody had went to crash and I was just hoping he threw it ahead,” Graham said of the game-winning play. “At first, I wanted to shoot the three. But I was just like, get to the basket, try to get a foul since we were only down one.”

Graham took one dribble and pulled up to cash in the floater, taking the 121-120 lead with 0.9 seconds remaining. The Spurs forced a 5-second violation on the Nuggets’ inbounds pass to seal the victory.

The absence of other key players presented Graham more minutes the last few games of the season. Popovich nodded his readiness for when his name was called.

“He busted his ass all year long,” he said. “He was always ready. I’m sure he didn’t always like it, but he was always there for his team. You know, down the stretch he’s got to play a little bit more and he’s shown that he’s still a player.”

The Spurs got to play the Nuggets three times in the final month of the season, and San Antonio showed its growth in each matchup. The first came in the I-35 Series, where the Spurs fell 117-106 behind Wembanyama’s 17 points and nine rebounds. Popovich said he appreciated playing a talented team like Denver multiple times in the final weeks to show his squad what a winning team looks like.

“The good thing about playing the Nuggets, we get them two more times,” he said after the March 15 loss. “You get to play against a championship team, and you see what it takes. Some things you can’t match. You can’t match the talent level that they have right now with the young team, but you see what it takes: the consistency. We have the effort.” 

The following outing came in a closer loss, where the Spurs fell 110-105 on April 2 in Denver, this time with Wemby totaling 25 points and 15 boards. The third time came the charm for the young rookie, where his 34 and 11 guided his team over one of the best teams in the NBA. Despite having a season nowhere near the Nuggets, San Antonio’s improvement in the final stint of the season is something not typically seen in one of the worst teams record-wise in the league.

“A lot of teams have been in this position. They just die out,” Popovich said. “These guys, you can tell, they enjoy each other. They love each other. They know they’re getting better individually and as a group. That’s where I get my satisfaction. Just watching them react the way they do is fantastic.”

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About the Contributor
Luke Lawhorn
Luke Lawhorn, Sports Editor
Luke (he/him) is an English major at UTSA and is set to graduate in the Spring of 2024. This is his fifth semester at The Paisano and his fourth as the Sports Editor. Along with covering UTSA sports and events, Luke also covers high school sports and local events for the San Antonio Express-News and covers the San Antonio Spurs for The Paisano. He has a huge passion for covering sports and giving his opinion on them. Outside of writing and talking about sports, Luke's hobbies include playing basketball, watching movies and all things outdoors.

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