Andrew LopezESPN3 Minute Read
SAN ANTONIO — As Victor Wembanyama walked on to the Frost Bank Center court during pregame warmups for his NBA regular-season debut, he spread his arms across the tunnel to high-five fans on both sides before taking the court.
Wembanyama’s performance was hampered by foul trouble, but he gave the soldout crowd of 18,947 quite the show in the fourth quarter before the Dallas Mavericks pulled away from Wembanyama’s Spurs with a 126-119 victory.
“Lots of emotions for sure,” Wembanyama said following the game, “but it would have been perfect with a win.”
Wembanyama said it was “surreal” to see the number of fans in the building before the opening tip and he did get things going on the right foot.
On the Spurs’ first defensive possession, Wembanyama came up with a block on Dallas’ Kyrie Irving. But as the game progressed, Wembanyama found himself battling foul trouble throughout the night.
He picked up his second foul with 43.5 seconds left in the first quarter and played just 5 minutes, 33 seconds in the second quarter. In the third, Wembanyama picked up two fouls in the first 3:23 after halftime and sat for the remainder of the quarter.
When he returned for the fourth quarter, he quickly found his way back to the bench just 26 seconds in as he picked up his fifth foul for reaching in on a Luka Doncic drive.
Wembanyama came back in the game with 7:12 left and immediately made his presence felt catching a lob from teammate Devin Vassell. He scored nine in the quarter, but it wasn’t enough as both Irving and Doncic hit clutch 3-pointers to secure the victory.
“One of the toughest things for a player is to get into foul trouble,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “You never get into a rhythm, you’re in and out of the game and that sort of thing. I thought his maturity showed, even at a young age where he came in with the last seven minutes and just played.
“We ran some stuff for him, he executed where a lot of guys would have been totally out of it by then because, as you said, were in foul trouble and didn’t get the rhythm. I thought he had a wonderful outing considering that.”
Wembanyama played 23 minutes and finished with 15 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block on 6-of-9 shooting, including 3-of-5 from deep.
Despite dealing with the foul trouble, he said he tried to do his best to stay positive down the stretch.
“It might be frustrating, but always keeping your heads up is good for my teammates,” Wembanyama said. “I can’t show it on the court, and we learn every day.”
Vassell, who led the Spurs with 23 points, said he’s expecting big things from Wembanyama when he steps back on the floor on Friday when San Antonio hosts the Houston Rockets. But he also said this is still a learning experience for the rest of the roster.
“We’re all figuring each other out,” Vassell said. “We’re all figuring out Wemby. He’s figuring us out. We just got to figure out how to play as a team and make sure that the game is easy for him and he doesn’t have to do as much as he has to do on iso situations and just getting him easy lobs, easy looks to get him going.
“He demands so much attention, if they are double teaming him, we have to be able to cut and make certain plays out of that.”
Doncic, who finished with 33 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, said he enjoyed going against Wembanyama in his debut game.
“It was fun,” Doncic said. “We knew the whole building was going to be loud and everything. This is probably one of the best prospects to enter the NBA, so it was fun. For me personally, I like challenges, so that was a fun challenge.”
Doncic and Irving combined to score 20 of the Mavericks’ 30 in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. Irving finished with 22 points and six assists.
After the game, Doncic had high praise for the Spurs’ newcomer, saying Wembanyama is going to be “amazing.”
“He has obviously the size, obviously like everybody talks, but the way he moves for 7-5, 7-6 — I don’t know what it is, sorry — but he moves incredible,” Doncic said. “He moves like a point guard almost. So it’s pretty amazing to see him. He’s going to have a great future, and it’s going to be amazing to watch.”
Christine Lake is a sports fanatic who lives and breathes athletics. With an extensive background in sports journalism, he covers everything from major league championships to grassroots sports events. When she’s not on the field or at the stadium, you’ll find Christine coaching youth sports teams.