What Spurs’ Victor Wembanyama told himself to launch massive performance vs Nuggets

Spurs young superstar Victor Wembanyama admits the physicality from a Denver Nugget fired him up for a big second half.

The normally stoic and calm super rookie Victor Wembanyama received only his second NBA technical on Friday. Late in the first half of what turned into a 121-120 San Antonio Spurs upset, the generational talent appeared upset after Denver Nuggets big man Aaron Gordon knocked him to the floor.

“There’s plenty of ways to react but my whole mentality at halftime was ‘how are you going to react to this? What kind of a player are you?’ I had to react,” Wemby said.

The top pick in this past summer’s draft responded with 17 points in the third quarter and helped close the gap on what was an 18-point Spurs deficit at the half.

Victor Wembanyama responds

San Antonio Spurs forward Victor Wembanyama (1) shoots over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and forward Aaron Gordon (50) during the second half at Frost Bank Center.

Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports
Asked if the incident with Gordon is the most annoyed he’s been during his first year of American basketball, Wembanyama pondered.

“Was it? I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m definitely going to go back and watch it. I hate it when games go in that direction because that’s clearly the direction that we can see.”

The 7-foot-4 phenom wasn’t as pensive in answering whether it motivated him for a second half that saw him score 19 points.

“Of course. Not only did it fire me up but also we have to find other ways to respond to everything.”

The 20-year-old Rookie of the Year favorite wasn’t the only Spur who drew inspiration from the Nuggets physicality.

“You know what motivated me, when he fell on the floor and Gordon was looking at him,” Spurs forward Sandro Mamukelashvili said. “If I was on the court, I’d get a tech. I’m telling you right now. I was happy I was sitting on the bench, and I didn’t go on the court because that’s $25,000 that I don’t have.”

Victor Wembanyama admitted that playing against the defending champions, who entered the night with the top seed in the West, factored into his mindset as well.

“It’s hard, especially playing against a first seed because they [opponents] aren’t always the same. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before. But it’s true that I hadn’t seen this type of defense in a long time.”

Wembanyama’s real motivation

Beyond the excitement of knocking off one of the league’s best teams, the Spurs leading scorer talked about the picture as a whole.

“For me, it’s just realizing all of the team effort,” Wembanyama said. “We look way better than the beginning of the season. These are going to come if we become the team that we’re going to become. These are going to be on our way and on my way. It’s another milestone and things that are important to me.”

Even more shorthanded than they had been in recent games, the Silver and Black were also missing guard Malaki Branham because of concussion protocol. He joined Keldon Johnson and Cedi Osman on the bench. Devin Vassell and Jeremy Sochan have already been ruled out for the season. Veteran Devonte’ Graham’s game-winning shot drew an honest response from the Spurs cornerstone.

“It was great. The whole thing. Even the play, [coaches] not calling a timeout because they trust him. I think there’s a story behind this. Even this win is just great for him and great for all of us to see that from him.”

Wembanyama punctuated the night with 34 points, 12 rebounds and five assists against a franchise expected to contend for a second straight NBA title.

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