Under the flash of the big city lights, the stars were out along with nearly 20,000 other Knicks fans for Victor Wembanyama’s MSG debut.
Wembanyama wasn’t the only debut of the night, as the Knicks also debuted their new city edition uniforms and court design. Remarkably in his 50th season in working for the NBA, Hubie Brown was on hand to call the color commentary for ESPN. Brown was on the same MSG sidelines as coach of the 1984 Knicks when a young Chicago Bulls rookie guard by the name of Michael Jordan made his MSG debut, exactly 39 years ago to the day. As the stage was set for tipoff, all eyes and the spotlight were solely on the 19-year-old rookie from France.
Those lights quickly, almost immediately went dim on Wemby and the Spurs, who lost the game, 126-105.
Jumping out of the gate the 7’5” phenom lost the tip-off to Mitchell Robinson. Julius Randle who hasn’t been shy to to shoot all season long missed a quick three to start the game. Wemby grabbed hig first rebound of the game, and then missed his first shot of the game, a long 25 foot three. From there forward, it was game on.
The Knicks jumped out to a 13-0 run. R.J. Barrett looked phenomenal in his second game back from injury. Barrett’s first shot, a three from 25 feet started the Knicks shutout run that ran for nearly the first four minutes of the game. Very quickly it became a shooting barrage from deep as both Quentin Grimes and Julius Randle each added a triple apiece.
On the other end of the court, Wemby missed his first two shots. Going into the game there were doubts whether he could compete down low against Mitchell Robinson and Isaiah Hartenstein, who forced the rookie into bad shots and frustrations all night. The Knicks forced Wemby to shoot from deep, and he couldn’t buy a basket, finishing the night 0-4 from deep, including catching everything but air on his third attempt during the second quarter. Robinson and Hartenstein were outstanding at containing Wemby, pushing and bumping him around to a -25 in the +/- column.
It wasn’t until three minutes and 23 seconds into the game that the Spurs finally got on the board, when a back door alley oop pass from Zach Collins found a soaring Malaki Branham to the hoop for an easy lay-up. 18 seconds later, with the score 13-2, Wembanyama stepped to the charity stripe after a hard Robinson foul, giving the rookie a chance to tie and double Kobe Bryant’s MSG debut performance in 1996. Wemby made both, cutting the Knicks lead to single digits for the first and only time for the rest of the game. Down 19-8, Wembanyama exited for the first time after an 0-for-3 start from the field and just one rebound and one assist.
The Knicks lead quickly jumped up 25-12 late in the first when Thibs looked to his bench to rest his starters. The bench, which has been phenomenal for the Knicks as of late, continued in the starter’s footsteps. Just 30 seconds upon entering the game, Donte DiVincenzo pulled up and splashed his first shot of the game, a three pointer that give the Knicks a 17-point lead. A 16-foot jumper by Immanuel Quickly less than one minute later brought the garden to the loudest it had been all night. A bucket under the basket by Hartenstein closed out the first quarter, 33-16.
In the first quarter, the Knicks had shot 52% from the field and 53% from deep, hitting four of their seven attempted threes. The Spurs missed all five of their first quarter threes and, even with the 7’4” Wembanyama, had been outrebounded by the Knicks, 12-7.
During the second quarter, the Spurs continued their sloppy play. The Garden faithful loved every second of Wembanyama’s struggles, and when he airballed a 26-foot three early in the second, the crowd exploded. In fact, eight of the nine Knicks who had stepped on to the court by this point, had all individually outscored Wembanyama, save for Josh Hart.
Jalen Brunson came into tonight’s game off one of his worst performances since becoming a Knick. While most brushed it off as just an off-night, Brunson started slow again, shooting 1-of-7 thorugh the first 21 minutes of play. That all changed though when Brunson drilled three consecutive threes without a miss late in the second quarter to give the Knicks a 63-44 lead and ending his short, five-quarter slump. Brunson would finish the game with 25 points, six assists, and five threes, and the Knicks would enter the locker room at halftime up 65-51.
Team effort ‼️— NEW YORK KNICKS (@nyknicks) November 9, 2023
JB 25 PTS | 6 AST
RJ 24 PTS | 6 AST
JU 23 PTS | 16 REB | 5 AST
Quick 19 PTS | 5 AST
Big Hart 13 PTS | 2 STL
Mitch 8 PTS | 12 REB pic.twitter.com/t32GrGe2Z4
As the Spurs searched their locker room for Michael’s secret stuff, they must not have found any. The Knicks’ 14-point lead quickly ballooned to 29, and another RJ Barrett three pointer inflated the score to 82-53.
Who would’ve thought such a significant game, in which the Knicks were on the giving end of a blowout, would become somewhat boring? In the third quarter, the Garden’s energy simmered down significantly enough that you could hear the play calling on the court. Even Josh Hart’s three late in the fourth, which grew the Knicks point total to 88, hardly raised an eyebrow. Another three by Immanuel Quickley just sixty seconds later almost went unnoticed, as the Garden faithful had already got what they came for and were most likely looking up their Long Island Railroad schedules to beat the rush.
As for Wembanyama , it took nearly nearly 33 minutes of gametime until he finally made his first field goal. It hardly even put a dent in the Knicks 30-point lead, the Knicks largest of the game prior to his 9-foot baseline jumper over Ish brought the score to 93-65.
Late in the third, Wembanyama’s frustration started to show. After a hard foul by Hartenstein, with the play whistled dead, Wembanyama held the ball cocked between his forearm and bicep and attempted to sneak an elbow to Quickley’s face. While everything broke up promptly, before things turned ugly, it was evident just how frustrated Webmanyama had become with his individual and team’s performance, as the Spurs finished the third quarter down 99-72.
With just 12 minutes remaining to a lopsided victory, the Knicks were cruising to their most impressive game yet this season. The first few minutes of the quarter became a ping pong match between both teams trading baskets with little impact on the Spurs deficit. Finally, at the 7:41 mark Wembanyama woke up and gave the Garden the highlight they came to see. He caught a lob pass that led him to a driving spin around Josh Hart and towards the hoop, where he finished with a two-handed flush that inspired ooohs and aaahs for Wemby for the first time all night.
The dunk ignited the Spurs, briefly. They managed to go on a brief run and cut the lead to 17. The Knicks immediately called a timeout with 7:41 remaining to kill the potential turnaround.
New York had been on cruise control all game. Since the opening tip, the Knicks never trailed. After that timeout, the Spurs continued a mini-run with Wemby on the bench. After a deep three by Keldon Johnson, the Spurs’ Malakhi Johnson missed a pull-up jumper with 6:30 remaining that would’ve cut the score to 12.
A shooting foul on the other end by Sochan put Mitchell Robinson on the line. Robinson who is notoriously bad from the stripe, coming into the game shooting sub .500, missed both free throws. 10 seconds later on the Spurs end, it was Robinson now who committed a shooting foul on Keldon Johnson, but the Spur also missed both of his free throws.
The final dagger on the Spurs came as a Julius Randle three. Randle had another strong and efficient performance, his second in row, and finished the game with 23 points, 16 rebounds, five assists, on 8-of-19 shooting. He led the team in the +/- category with a +31. One last deep 28-foot three by Brunson with 3:53 remaining put the nail on the coffin and gave the Knicks a 116-99 lead.
By this point, the benches were emptied, buckets between the reserves were traded, and the Knicks came away with a statement victory, 126-105. Barrett, Brunson, and Randle each finished with 20-plus points. Quickley finished with 16. But it was Robinson and Hartenstein’s defense that defined the game, as they left Wembanyama silenced and humbled with a measly 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting, 0-5 from three.
As DRoseFan29 said, “Knicks handled their business tonight.“ Indeed. Welcome the league rook!