Calgary Herald

Young NBA stars have off night in their first matchup

Showdown sputters between Spurs’ Wembanyama, Thunder’s Holmgren


Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren avoided adding fuel to the idea that they compete with each other, even though media and fans constantly link the slender 7-footers.

The much-anticipate­d first regular season meeting between two of the NBA’S top rookies wasn’t much of a game, and apparently there isn’t much of a rivalry.

Wembanyama said he wasn’t aware he was even being compared to Holmgren.

“Every prospect is compared to everyone,” said the 19-year-old from France.

They rarely matched up 1-on-1 on Tuesday night, and both had off nights. Wembanyama finished with eight points on 4-for-15 shooting, grabbed 14 rebounds and blocked two shots in San Antonio’s 123-87 loss to Oklahoma City. Holmgren finished with nine points on 3-for10 shooting and had seven rebounds and three assists.

Wembanyama, the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft, entered the night averaging 19.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks. Holmgren, the No. 2 pick in the 2022 draft, missed last season because of a foot injury but has recovered in grand style. He was averaging 16.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks before Tuesday while shooting 55 per cent from the field and 50 per cent from three-point range.

Fans have marvelled over the versatilit­y the 7-foot-3 Wembanyama and the 7-foot-1 Holmgren have displayed. Both have shown impressive shooting range and passing skills and have found early success in the rough-and-tumble league, despite their slender frames. As expected, both have been elite rim protectors.

After the game, they said little about each other.

When questioned about what it’s like to see someone nearly his size with similar skills, Wembanyama said: “Tall guys who handle the ball — there’s almost one on every team now, the way basketball is evolving,” he said.

When asked about first having played Wembanyama in the Under-19 World Cup in 2021, Holmgren focused on the team matchup.

“Just a great matchup between the U.S. and France,” the 21-yearold Holmgren said.

“A lot of great players in that game that were competing. It came down to the wire and we were able to edge out a win in that one.”

On Tuesday, both got off to slow starts, but Wembanyama was first to score, getting a baseline dunk in the first quarter.

Holmgren missed his first two shots before getting on the board with a three-pointer early in the second quarter.

Wembanyama dunked on a postup against Josh Giddey, then hit a mid-range jumper to cut Oklahoma City’s lead to 39-37 midway through the second quarter.

As halftime neared, the Spurs tried to throw a lob to Wembanyama in the post. The Thunder tipped it away and went on a fast break. Giddey faked a behind-theback pass to his right, then flung the ball over his left shoulder to Holmgren, who threw down a two-handed jam. with 2.2 seconds left to give the Thunder a 58-48 lead at the break.

The game was a blowout heading into the fourth quarter, but both played the early minutes. Holmgren tipped away a lob attempt to Wembanyama in one of the few instances where they were close. Minutes later, Wembanyama blocked a shot by Holmgren. But by then, the drama was long gone. And none was created after the game, either.

It came down to the wire and we were able to edge out a win in that one.

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