French prodigy Victor Wembanyama scored 15 points on his much-anticipated NBA debut on Wednesday but it was not enough to prevent the San Antonio Spurs slipping to a 126-119 defeat to Dallas.
This year’s top NBA Draft pick, in foul trouble throughout the second half, made 6-of-9 shots from the floor, 3-of-5 from 3-point range, with five rebounds, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot over 23 minutes in his first NBA contest.
It was Slovenian guard Luka Doncic of Dallas who starred with 33 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists as the Mavericks scored the last eight points for the victory.
“It all starts with our defense,” Doncic said. “We played good defense for three quarters but especially at the end we locked in.”
Wembanyama, the 19-year-old phenomenon considered the top NBA prospect since LeBron James, used his 7-foot-4 (2.24m) frame, surprising quickness and outside shooting touch to display his arsenal of skills in the first game of his rookie campaign.
After picking up his fifth foul only 26 seconds into the fourth quarter, Wembanyama went to the bench until only 7:12 remained.
Only 19 seconds later, Wembanyama made an alley-oop dunk shot off a pass from Devin Vassell, then added a 3-pointer, and his dunk with 4:56 to play gave the Spurs a 113-112 lead.
A Wembanyama jumper tied it at 115-115 with 3:55 remaining, but the Mavs were too tough for the Spurs down the stretch.
“Wemby” began drawing huge cheers after only 38 seconds, blocking a jump shot by eight-time NBA All-Star guard Kyrie Irving.
Attracting global attention since before joining the squad where compatriot Tony Parker became an NBA superstar, Wembanyama grabbed his first rebound off the defensive boards after 59 seconds and his first assist came 12 seconds later off a Zach Collins jumper.
Wembanyama opened his NBA scoring account on a 3-pointer with 8:24 remaining in the first quarter for a 13-7 Spurs lead.
Wembanyama picked up his second foul late in the first quarter and went to the bench with the Spurs ahead 40-33 on the way to a 68-64 halftime lead.
In the first half, Wembanyama had six points on 2-of-4 shooting, all from 3-point range, with three rebounds, a blocked shot, an assist and a steal over 12 minutes.
In the second half, Wembanyama picked up his third and fourth fouls 39 seconds apart, both offensively, and went to the bench 3:23 into the third quarter.
Seconds later, the Mavericks took their first lead at 73-72 and closed the quarter on an 8-0 run for their largest lead to that point at 96-91.
“Fortunately for us he’s a very tooled, prioritized young man,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said of Wembanyama. “I don’t have to teach him what is it to be a pro.”
Tatum leads Boston win
In other NBA openers, Jayson Tatum had 34 points and 11 rebounds while Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis added 30 points to lead Boston’s 108-104 triumph at New York. Porzingis had the most points for any player making his Celtics debut.
Sacramento’s Harrison Barnes scored 33 points to power Sacramento over host Utah 130-114.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s 31 points led Oklahoma City in a 124-104 win at Chicago.
Donovan Mitchell’s 3-pointer with 12.1 seconds remaining lifted Cleveland to a 114-113 victory at Brooklyn. Mitchell and Max Strus each scored 27 to lead the Cavaliers.
Detroit missed four shots in the last 64 seconds and host Miami, led by Bam Adebayo’s 22 points and 19 from Jimmy Butler, edged the Pistons 103-102.
C.J. McCollum had 24 points and Zion Williamson added 23 to lead New Orleans over host Memphis 111-104.
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