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HomeCruiseKnicks neutralize Victor Wembanyama, cruise to win over Spurs

Knicks neutralize Victor Wembanyama, cruise to win over Spurs

It’s the matchup Madison Square Garden was waiting for, and it came in the game’s first few minutes.
With the ball in his hands was Victor Wembanyama, the 7-6 phenom from France, a player the likes of which the NBA hasn’t seen.
A cross between Kevin Durant and Kristaps Porzingis. A big with deep shooting range who can put the ball on the floor and defend the rim.
And defending him was the springy Knicks big man Mitchell Robinson, who compared Wembanyama to Bol Bol, a talented seven-footer who can’t get any run as the 15th man on Durant’s championship-contending Phoenix Suns.
The Garden crowd roared in excitement. It exploded after what ensued.
With his back to the basket on the low block, Wembanyama shimmied right then turned and faded over his left shoulder for a close-range two. Robinson didn’t bite on the shimmy. He contested Wembanyama’s shot — his 7-foot-4 wingspan contesting Wembanyama and his eight-foot reach.
The result was an airball, one of two shots left short by the French big man in the first half alone.
The other came in the second quarter: a wide-open top-of-the-key three that ran out of steam halfway to the rim.
Wembanyama missed each of his first five shots and finished with just 14 points and nine rebounds on 4-of-14 shooting from the field while missing all four of his attempts from downtown in his Garden debut. Robinson handily won the matchup: He finished with eight points and 12 rebounds and helped power a dominant 126-105 Knicks victory over the Spurs by taking on the challenge of guarding San Antonio’s franchise cornerstone.
“He’s a great player, one of the best in the league right now, especially he’s 7-6, [can] put it in the floor, shoot it. So, it’s a challenge, but you need to do what you gotta do,” Robinson said postgame.
Wembanyama missed all six shots when guarded by the Knicks’ starting center on Wednesday.
“Doing what I’m supposed to do. Doing my job. Playing defense,” Robinson said. “The team gets better. We play them again, so just gotta make sure I keep the same energy.”
Less than a week ago, Wembanyama guided his Spurs to back-to-back wins over Durant and the Suns, including a 38-point performance in an 11-point win in Phoenix.
The Knicks (4-4) rendered Wemby’s transformational talent ineffective. They have won two in a row for the first time this season and are back to a .500 record after dropping two in a row.
And only hours ahead of tipoff, Wembanyama — the runaway favorite for NBA Rookie of the Year — suggested The World’s Most Famous Arena had room for improvement.
“Yeah, pretty incredible,” he said after Spurs shoot around at The Garden Tuesday morning. “It’s not as big as I expected, but still, the vibe is here.”
It’s clear Wembanyama has the tools to become an all-time great. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich isn’t putting the cart before the horse.
“At this stage of his career, he’s learning a lot. To put the whole program around him is a bit premature, even though he is a talented individual,” Popovich said ahead of tipoff. “He has a lot of things on his mind as far as how this game works and how we play. The NBA, people he’s never played against these people before. So, he’s got a lot to work on.
“Eventually, I would think he would be a rather large part of the program.”
Fans in attendance gave Wembanyama a rousing ovation after his pregame introduction on Madison Square Garden’s new City Edition Knicks court.
They also gathered at The Garden earlier in the day for Spurs shootaround — just to see you know who — and laughed in unison after Wemby’s second airball.
At the bottom of the third quarter, fans showered him in “over-rated” chants during a trip to the foul line. Moments earlier, Wembanyama lightly shoved Immanuel Quickley, who was reaching for the ball after an official blew the whistle.
Quickley clapped his hands in celebration after the shove. The Spurs’ star was clearly frustrated.
The Knicks built a lead that ballooned as large as 21 points in the first half alone, jumping out to a 13-0 lead by the 8:59 mark of the first quarter. They took a 33-16 lead into the second period and never looked back.
Popovich subbed Wembanyama out of the game at the 6:31 mark of the first quarter. He brought him back in three minutes later — on the same possession Robinson checked out of the game for backup big man Isaiah Hartenstein.
“Mitch played great,” starting guard Jalen Brunson said. “Got to give Mitch a lot of credit.”
Nothing worked.
Wembanyama made his first field goal, a nine-foot jumper, with 3:18 to go in the third quarter. His shot cut the Knicks’ lead from 30 to 28. At the top of the fourth quarter, he spun down the middle of the lane around Josh Hart and dunked with two hands in front of Isaiah Hartenstein.
Popovich subbed Wembanyama out of the game with 8:18 to go in the fourth quarter with the Knicks up by 22. He subbed him back in after a futile fourth-quarter run: Wemby tipped himself an offensive rebound then went up and drew and and-one foul on Barrett at the rim.
Moments later, Brunson isolated Wembanyama at the top of the key and hoisted a three over his outstretched arm. It swished through the net for Brunson’s 24th points of the night.
The Knicks’ three-headed attack of Brunson, Barrett and Julius Randle combined for 72 points, with Randle stringing together his second solid scoring night: 23 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the field to go with 16 points and five assists.
The Knicks easily dispatched the Spurs. They have three days of rest before hosting the Charlotte Hornets at The Garden on Sunday.

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