The matchup between Oklahoma City and San Antonio's towering rookies was heavy on anticipation and lighter on head-to-head action.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Several NBA players could be considered as a draw, but only a select few can be regarded as a spectacle. Take, for example, Stephen Curry, starting with his pregame shooting and ball-handling routines.
Victor Wembanyama is 11 games into his career but he is already drawing crowds to his games and warmups including last night to see the 7-foot-4 French basketball prodigy in Oklahoma City ahead of the Spurs matchup with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Wembanyama took a break from his pregame routine for a drink from a mini Dasani water bottle. It looked like a shot glass in his hands. Then he resumed movements and warmup shots that are reserved for guards like Curry or highly skilled wings. The look on one young fan’s face, as he watched Wemby drain shot after shot, reminded me of a scene from Jurassic Park when a brother and sister got their first glimpse at a dinosaur.
The main attraction for Thunder fans on Tuesday was the matchup between 7-foot-1 rookie Chet Holmgren and Wembanyama.
Although there were flashes of great play, the Thunder’s 123-87 victory over San Antonio did not live up to the hype as a classic duel between the talented young players. Both finished with young-career-lows in points.
Holmgren managed nine points on 3-of-10 shooting and seven rebounds in 29 minutes.
Wembanyama missed 11 of 15 shots in scoring eight points but grabbed a season-high 14 rebounds in 28 minutes.
They rarely guarded each other, but fortunately, the court is too small for these forces not to collide. And when those moments came, the anticipation felt like going to see a great stand-up comic and laughing before they finished the joke.
Take the first-quarter moment when Holmgren’s bid at jumping a perimeter pass was a split second late — and just in time to see Wembanyama go back door, dribbling behind his back before a euro-step dunk around Jalen Williams.
Josh Giddey later set up a clash of the giants, dropping off a pass to Chet in transition with only Wemby in front of him. Chet made the right play by kicking it out to a wide-open corner shooter, but that is not what the crowd wanted to see. You could hear a collective sigh.
That moment came in the second quarter with Wembanyama matched up on Holmgren. When Chet rose from the post for a fade-away jumper, the shot rimmed out and it sounded in the arena like he missed a big crunch-time shot.
“We can always hear our fans cheering,” Holmgren said afterward. “They were loud all night long, shoutout to our fans. They really brought it tonight and definitely helped us win.”
There was one scary moment: With the Thunder up 31 points and six minutes remaining, Holmgren pump-faked Zach Collins out of his shoes on his way into a drive before Jeremy Sochan clobbered him on what would later be determined as a flagrant 1. Chet’s body hit the floor hard, but the focus was above the neck. His neck snapped back and his head bounced off the floor with a huge thud. Holmgren appeared to be fine in his few remaining minutes and after the game.
Round 1 of Chet vs. Wemby went to Chet and the Thunder and will be remembered more for how fans tried to will them into confrontation. It delivered more anticipation than action, but still, you had to be there.
Shai steals the spotlight: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stole the spotlight from what everyone thought would be the story of this game with two generational-level talent big men facing off. He finished with a career-high seven steals and scored 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting. He played only 28 minutes, but that was enough to stuff five assists and six rebounds onto the stat sheet from a 36-point Thunder win.