LOS ANGELES – It didn’t take long for Victor Wembanyama to find out the road can be a tough place in the NBA.
Kawhi Leonard scored 21 points, Paul George added 19 and the Los Angeles Clippers’ stars schooled the Spurs rookie in his first game away from home, a 123-83 rout of San Antonio on Sunday night.
Wembanyama was held to 11 points, five rebounds, two assists and one block. He committed five of the Spurs’ season-worst 25 turnovers.
“It’s not about how bad the struggles are going to be, but how persistent we’re going to be,” the 19-year-old said, sounding wise beyond his years.
It was a letdown for Wembanyama after he scored 15 points in a loss to Dallas in his NBA debut last week. He followed up with 21 points in an overtime victory against Houston.
“I wouldn’t see any reason to be frustrated three games into the season, but it is a learning experience,” he said.
Russell Westbrook had 19 points and Ivica Zubac scored 16 for the Clippers, who had seven players in double figures. Westbrook and Zubac had a team-high eight rebounds apiece.
Devin Vassell led the Spurs with 14 points and Cedi Osman added 12 off the bench.
“It sucks losing by 40 points,” Vassell said. “I feel like we played scared. We can’t play on our heels.”
Wembanyama was the only Spurs starter on the court to start the fourth, when they trailed 93-60. But he checked out for good after playing 26 minutes and clapped for his teammates from the bench.
“He’s going to be good,” Leonard said. “I felt like he got a more aggressive mentality as he started the season off.”
Westbrook — the French teenager’s favorite player growing up — delivered a knee to Wembanyama’s thigh in the third. The 19-year-old made 1 of 2 free throws, capping a stretch in which he scored five of the Spurs’ seven points to leave them trailing 77-48.
“They’re my idols, but they’re still my opponent,” Wembanyama said of Leonard, Paul and Westbrook.
After drawing a crowd to his warmup an hour before tipoff, Wembanyama got off to a mixed start. The 7-foot-3 star had a turnover on the Spurs’ first possession, blocked Zubac and then missed two free throws.
“Everybody’s going to be physical with him and try to knock him off-balance,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “He’s got to get used to that.”
Wembanyama tapped in an alley-oop pass from Zach Collins for his only two points of the first quarter. The Spurs were down by 12 before scoring their first points in the second on Wembanyama’s hook.
“I think he got a deflection on Russ, not even guarding Russ but just back tip,” George said. “There are just certain plays that stand out where you’re like, ‘Wow.’ There’s only two guys maybe in the league that can do that.”
The Clippers led by 21 in the second quarter before Westbrook hit a 3-pointer from the left corner to send them into halftime ahead 56-37. He slapped hands with fans in the front row.
The Clippers raced to a 20-7 start, with George scoring nine points. His five steals were the most in a quarter in his career.
Spurs: Visit Phoenix on Tuesday in the first of two in a row against the Suns.
Clippers: Host Orlando on Tuesday to end a stretch in which they play three of their first four games at home.
AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba