Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called it the best place to play basketball, and while Wembanyama agreed, noting that the arena was “very special” after his debut there Wednesday night, the team’s performance was anything but.
The New York Knicks controlled the game from the start and was never in danger in a 126-105 win.
“We’re learning,” Wembanyama said. “As a young team, any team really, we will sometimes go through losing streaks during difficult times during the season. That will happen. But the most important thing is how we get back on our feet.”
It was the third straight defeat for the Spurs, who have given up at least 120 points in seven of their eight games this season.
“We have good intentions and we’ve learned a lot from the defensive coaching staff as well, so we’re just trying to do what they say,” Wembanyama said.
“But I think what’s good is that we bring energy at all times, so that’s a good start. But we have great potential defensively. I know we’ve seen great defensive sequences in recent games, especially in Phoenix. We just all get it together.
Popovich said all early games had the potential to be teachable moments for his team, which is the youngest in the league.
“Every game is a game full of mistakes,” Popovich said. “You learn when you win and you learn when you lose. But we’ll watch film and pick things for the team and for individual players. We would do the same if we had won the game.”
Wembanyama finished the game with 14 points, nine rebounds and one block. He didn’t make his first field goal until 3:18 of the third quarter when he fired a 9-foot jump shot. The crowd got rowdy when he threw two air balls in the first half, and some even booed him during parts of the second.
The Knicks, like other teams have done, tried to get physical with Wembanyam. According to ESPN Stats & Information Tracking, the Knicks Center Mitchell Robinson was the primary defender on six Wembanayama field goal attempts and held him without a basket.
Wembanyama said he was used to teams defending him physically — he said that happened in Europe before he moved to the NBA — and as a guard for the Spurs Tre Jones says San Antonio needs to prepare.
“Some teams will certainly try to attack him and so on, be very aggressive and physical with him,” Jones said. “But it is what it is and as long as he continues to develop the way we know he can, it will stay that way no matter how long he plays and so we will just get used to it.”
“We just have to get that in our minds right away to know that we have to come out and be the ones to bring it to these teams.”
After his first visit to the Garden, Wembanyama said he wanted everyone to feel the way they did on Wednesday, albeit preferably with more wins down the line.
“No matter how many times I play here,” Wembanyama said, “I hope it will always be special.”