'So much greatness': Brunson's 61 can't conquer Wemby (40-20), Spurs

ByBrian Windhorst ESPN logo
Saturday, March 30, 2024

SAN ANTONIO -- Elated at his first career three-game win streak coming in dramatic overtime, Victor Wembanyama threw the basketball into the stands moments after the San Antonio Spurs outlasted the New York Knicks, 130-126, Friday night.

A ball boy working the Knicks bench sprinted up to retrieve it from the fan who caught it because it was an instant valuable piece of memorabilia from an instant classic game.

Wembanyama had a career-high 40 points to go with 20 rebounds in a duel with Knicks' guard Jalen Brunson who had 61 points, the second-highest scoring game in Knicks history behind Carmelo Anthony's 62 in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats in 2014.

"I've never seen so (much) greatness before this season...I've just witnessed so much greatness and I want to be a part of it," Wembanyama said going against Brunson, the seventh player to score 60 in a game this season.

"I always wanted to, but more and more seeing that already able to, compete with those guys. I'm not near (them) but I'm on the right path. I know it and I'm going to get there one day soon."

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, it's only the second time in NBA history that one player had a 40-point, 20-rebound game and another had a 60-point contest. The other instance came in 1961 when Elgin Baylorscored 63 points and Wilt Chamberlainhad 78 points and 43 rebounds.

Brunson scored 38 points in the second half, tied with Patrick Ewing in 1995 for the most points in a half in Knicks history, as he led the Knicks to a 21-point comeback. He made 25-of-47 shots, the most taken in an NBA game since Kobe Bryant's famous farewell game in 2016. Brunson's previous career high was 50 points on Dec. 15 against the Phoenix Suns.

The Knicks, taking advantage of key Spurs defender Jeremy Sochan leaving with an ankle injury, repeatedly cleared the floor and let Brunson work in pure isolation. Other times he attacked Wembanyama in pick-and-rolls, hitting jumper after jumper from midrange.

At one point in the third quarter he ended up 1-on-1 with Wembanyama at the top of the key. He went left, jammed his foot into the floor to stop himself jetted backward as Wembanyama lost position. After splashing the jumper he pumped his fist, relishing the moment.

"He's going to be one of the greatest players this game's seen," Brunson said. "Just the way he's built and what he's been able to do so far. So I've got a lot of respect for him and it's definitely tough to get a shot up and in over him."

Brunson wasn't in the mood to reflect too much on his performance, frustrated the Knicks had lost to the team with the worst record in the Western Conference. He was just 1-of-5 shooting in overtime and the Spurs double teamed him at the end of regulation, forcing a pass to Miles McBride, who missed an open look at the buzzer.

Wembanyama scored five points with two rebounds and steal in overtime. He also had 13 points and six rebounds in the fourth quarter as he helped the Spurs fight off Brunson's charge.

"I don't think I've ever seen that," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of the Brunson-Wembanyama stat lines. "It just shows what (Wembanyama) is going to be when he understands all the physicality that's coming at him all the time and what to do about it. Fortunately, he's also a hell of an instinctive passer and he's willing to do what he needs to do in that regard. So he's pretty special."

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau rode referees throughout the game, frustrated Brunson only got six free throw attempts despite high volume drives to the basketball. The Spurs had a 32-12 free throw edge, Wembanyama had 12 himself and made 10 including two that tied the game at the end of the fourth quarter.

"A foul is a foul," Thibodeau said. "I don't know what else you could do, what else you can say. It's clear as day. It really is that simple."

When asked if he'd spend any time considering he is now one of just three Knicks to ever scored more than 60 points in a game - in addition to Anthony, Bernard King famously scored 60 points on Christmas Day against the New Jersey Nets in 1984 -- Brunson was glum:

"When I retire."

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