Victor Wembanyama and Giannis Antetokounmpo faced off in their first ever head-to-head meeting on Thursday night as the San Antonio Spurs hosted the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks are contending for a championship in the Eastern Conference, while the Spurs are in the cellar of the West, but for one night this matchup produced playoff-level intensity for a national TV audience.
Antetokounmpo is the sport’s reigning freak — a two-time MVP, a former Defensive Player of the Year, an NBA champion and a Finals MVP — who has been all the places Wemby wants to go. Wembanyama was the one of the most hyped draft prospects in league history, but his rookie year has been decidedly unglamorous: Gregg Popovich’s refusal to play an actual point guard heavy minutes with his star rookie has resulted in a team that somehow can’t get the 7’5 guy the ball, as well as lots and lots of losses. Only the Detroit Pistons have won fewer games than San Antonio.
Wembanyama is not tracking as an All-Star in his rookie season like some idiot predicted, but his historic talent has still been evident in broad strokes. In his best moments, you can see the future of the league flickering, an impossibly quick and bendy giant who can score from all three levels and exudes a killer mentality. If there are Wembanyama skeptics out there, they only needed to watch his ferocious competitive spirit against Giannis with the game on the line.
The Bucks beat the Spurs, 125-121, in a TNT game that was unexpectedly captivating. Giannis vs. Wemby exceeded every ounce of hype, with both alternating absurdly great plays until the very end.
Wembanyama already had like 10 viral highlights on the night when he delivered the most jaw-dropping play of his career: blocking an Antetokounmpo dunk even after taking a full speed shoulder to the chest. The play would give San Antonio one more chance to pull the game out in the final seconds:
Wembanyama got the ball on the next possession with the Spurs down three, but he passed it off to Tre Jones, who missed a corner three to seal Milwaukee’s win. There’s no shame in losing to a championship contender like the Bucks for a young and struggling Spurs team. The play of Wemby throughout the night was enough, and hinted at how bright San Antonio’s future will soon be.
Wembanyama’s first viral highlight came when he threw himself an alley-oop off the backboard:
His next came when he got a steal, dribbled behind his back in transition, and dunked on Brook Lopez for the and-one slam:
With the game on the line, Wemby was stonewalling Damian Lillard’s drives, and ripping three-pointers as the trailer:
No, Wembanyama isn’t already one of the best players in the league. Antetokounmpo showed the world what that looks like on Thursday night. To this point, I wouldn’t even vote Wemby for Rookie of the Year, because yes Donovan Mitchell redshirt rookies count too, and Chet Holmgren has just been better. Regardless, Wembanyama still has his moments where he’s capable of meeting the massive hype, and his showdown with Giannis was perhaps the best example of it so far.
Wembanyama finished with 27 points, nine rebounds, and five blocks in 26 minutes as he continues to be on a minutes restriction with San Antonio.
Not to be out done, Giannis was somehow even more spectacular. Antetokounmpo finished with 44 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists in the win, and authored several game-breaking plays in the final minutes. Giannis gave the Bucks the lead for good with under one minute left when he drove the ball into the teeth of the defense and posterized poor Tre Jones:
Giannis also hit two dagger three-pointers with under three minutes left in regulation to keep the Bucks in the game. He’s shooting only 21.4 percent from three this year. These are shots the Spurs want Giannis to take, and he stepped up and knocked them down:
Watch the full highlights here:
Giannis just turned 29 years old and is still at his peak. Wembanyama could still be years away from his prime. We are going to get so many great matchups between these two over the years, with Giannis defending his throne and Wemby trying to come for it. If Thursday night was any indication, these head-to-head meetings should always be on a stage like primetime TNT.