The giant duel between the Greek Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Frenchman Victor Wembanyama turned to the advantage of the Bucks player, author of 44 points to avoid the trap set by the Spurs in San Antonio. On his 20th birthday, “Wemby” certainly saw the party spoiled by “The Greek Freak”, but the star in the making played in the same league as the two-time best NBA player in this match fought to the end (125 -121). It's an understatement to say that this first duel between the two monsters was expected. And he kept all his promises.
Limited to 26 minutes on the Spurs floor after his right ankle problem, which caused him to miss the first meeting in Milwaukee in December, Wembanyama performed well with 27 points, 9 rebounds and 5 blocks. If Devin Vassell overtook Frenchy as the Spurs' top scorer (34 points), it was the fight between Antetokounmpo and Wembanyama that eclipsed everything else. Author of high-class baskets, the number 1 of the previous draft almost offered a prestigious victory in the final seconds: after a monstrous counterattack on his rival of the day, Wemby offered the three-point equalizer to Tre Jones but the latter failed. Three seconds from time.
“He’s incredible, incredibly talented,” Antetokounmpo said of the rookie, nine years his junior, whose combination of size and skill has drawn comparisons to the Greek superstar. On several occasions, Wembanyama delighted the Spurs fans, like when he offered himself a dunk after his own rebound. A solo one-two on the panel. “He can score however he wants, whenever he wants. He plays the right way, he plays to win. It was good to play against him,” continued the Greek, who also grabbed 14 rebounds to allow the Bucks to avoid a third defeat in a row, against the bottom of the Western Conference.
Second in the East behind the Celtics, the Milwaukee Bucks have the third best record in the league (25 wins, 10 losses). Spurs have only won five matches. A defeat certainly but a new experience gained for the Frenchman, who “grew up watching” Antetokounmpo, who led the Bucks to the title in 2021. “It’s always additional motivation,” said Wembanyama. “I want to tackle everyone and be the bad guy on the field. So it was a great duel. Just the fact that we can compete with a championship-level team like this is promising,” he added.
Another floor, another star: in San Francisco, Nikola Jokic made an incredible three-point shot at the buzzer to allow the Denver Nuggets, defending champions, to win 130-127 against the Golden State Warriors. The 28-year-old Serbian, twice the NBA's best player, scored 34 points, made nine rebounds and ten assists to overthrow Stephen Curry's Warriors, who led by 18 points at the end of the third quarter. Antetokounmpo, Wembanyama, Jokic... A gala evening in the NBA summed up by Michael Malone, the Nuggets coach: “great players make great gestures”.