Sandro Mamukelashvili pushes Spurs past finish line with monster fourth quarter

Mar 10, 2023; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) drives to the basket
Mar 10, 2023; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) drives to the basket / Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Most Spurs fans had probably never heard of Sandro Mamukelashvili, let alone had any idea how to pronounce his vowel-packed last name before San Antonio claimed him off the waiver wire a week ago. But the second-year center has put himself on the map after a remarkable fourth-quarter performance in an upset over the first-place Nuggets on Friday night.

With the officials having ejected Zach Collins from the game and Charles Bassey in foul trouble, Gregg Popovich called on Mamukelashvili to round out the rotation in the final frame. The third-stringer rose to the occasion, coming up with a handful of clutch sequences that helped the Spurs fend off Denver in what was arguably their most impressive win this season.

All of the skills the 23-year-old big man flashed at Seton Hall and in the G League materialized on the court, and he ended the outing with a season-high 11 points to go along with four rebounds and two assists.

Mamukelashvili left Thomas Bryant off-balance with a pump fake, put the ball on the floor, and finished with a finger roll off the backboard. He then flowed from setting a hammer screen to backpedaling into open space for a catch-and-shoot three. A few possessions later, he relocated above the break and confidently stepped into another stationary trifecta.

Those skills are rare to see from a center, but Mamu isn't your run-of-the-mill seven-footer. He continued rejecting traditional positional boundaries, leading breaks, hitting cutters in full stride with live-dribble pocket passes between multiple defenders, and beautifully timing drive-and-kicks at the precise moment the help stunted to cut off his lane to the basket.

You also have to love how he influenced the contest with his energy as he cleaned up an airmailed layup in transition and put forth the extra effort to chase down loose balls and tap them back out to his teammates.

Outplaying two-time MVP Nikola Jokic in the fourth quarter after back-to-back losses to the Rockets is a spectacular way to reintroduce yourself to the AT&T Center crowd. One superb 12-minute stretch on the heels of five days of rest might not guarantee Mamukelashvili a long-term future in San Antonio, but, at the very least, it should earn him the minutes he needs to have a proper audition.

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