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Top scorer on Friday night with 31 points, Nikola Jokic led Denver to a 117-106 victory over the Spurs in a game that was played in Austin. Victor Wembanyama, who defended very well, had a tough night with 17 points at 33% shooting with five fouls and four turnovers. 

“I don’t really know what we’re doing here in Austin. It looks like a preseason game,” said Denver coach Michael Malone before the evening’s duel. That’s exactly the general impression left by the contest organized in the Texas capital on Friday, where the Nuggets played their game against the Spurs, who are looking for new fans in the city close to San Antonio.

Wembanyama denied access to the circle

The Nuggets rolled over the Spurs in the first quarter (37-18), in a half-hearted Moody Center. They were helped by Aaron Gordon’s defensive work on Victor Wembanyama, forcing him to play away from the basket and attempt complicated shots from distance (1/5 behind the arc over the whole game).

Serbian superstar Nikola Jokic took care of business on the other side of the court, showing off his fakes, floaters, and arm rolls over the French rookie. Above all, he goaded his opponent into two quick fouls, limiting his defensive impact.

Wemby came back better in the second quarter, stringing together a lengthy job shot, a block on young guard Christian Braun, and a lay-up near Aaron Gordon to take his total to 11 points at halftime, as the Spurs timidly came back into the game (49-58).

“You’re bad Wemby, go back to San Antonio” shouted a visibly tipsy spectator at the start of the second half. Despite a decent stat sheet at the end of the game (17 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists), Victor Wembanyama suffered in the second act, limiting himself to five shots and picking up three additional fouls. He was the polar opposite of Nikola Jokic, who scored 12 of his 31 points of the evening in the third quarter, before watching his teammates finish the job from the bench at the end of the game. “Joker” and the Nuggets were too strong for the Spurs, eventually prevailing 117-106.

“I don’t think anyone can do what Jokic does. He’s a unique, incredible, fantastic phenomenon,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich in a press conference. “He read our defense well and destroyed us at times. He controls the pace of the game, and makes his teammates better,” added Victor Wembanyama.

This difficult match nevertheless enabled the Frenchman to pass the symbolic 200-block mark since the start of the season, a historic performance for a rookie that hasn’t been seen since Tim Duncan excelled during the 1997-1998 season. The Spurs play a second game at Austin’s Moody Center on Sunday evening, when they host the Brooklyn Nets.

This post is originally from L’Équipe