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Spurs embarrassed by Embiid-less 76ers in blowout loss

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San Antonio simply couldn’t keep up with the best team in the East and suffered their worst loss of the season.

San Antonio Spurs v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Spurs have excuses for this lopsided 134-99 loss. DeMar DeRozan is out; they are still trying to find their rhythm after a COVID outbreak and the All-Star break; the LaMarcus Aldridge situation is still unresolved. Ultimately, though, they were just outclassed by the superior 76ers on Sunday.

San Antonio’s best chance against the Joel Embiid-less Sixers was to make the game ugly. They succeeded early, with some help from Philly. With the two offensive fulcrums absent, neither team looked particularly sharp early on. The hosts did a better job of masking their struggles by taking advantage of some lackadaisical Spurs transition defense to find open shooters or easy buckets at the rim. The Silver and Black, on the other hand, relied more on individual scoring bursts, as whenever they could get a good outside look by executing, they simply couldn’t capitalize.

Once the Sixers got more comfortable, things got trickier for San Antonio. Ben Simmons was simply too good to be contained by the smaller Spurs and Philadelphia’s shooters refused to miss. Both defenses were disruptive in the second quarter, getting deflections and turnovers, but the home team was better at turning their opponent mistakes into points. Some good play by Lonnie Walker IV and Derrick White kept the score from getting out of hand, but it was clear that there was a size and talent disparity that was going to be almost impossible to overcome unless the Spurs communicated much better on defense and starting hitting their outside shots.

Alas, that didn’t happen. Every trend that was going the Sixers’ way in the first half continued in the third quarter. There was no answer for Simmons, the shots were falling for Philadelphia and the Spurs’ defense continued to make mistake after mistake. The lead ballooned to 23 points at the five-minute mark and that was enough for Gregg Popovich to empty his bench to prepare for Monday’s SEGABABA. The rest of the game was garbage time, which was frankly more entertaining than what led up to it, mostly thanks to some impressive Luka Samanic plays.

The game is a perfect reminder that the second half schedule is going to be challenging for the Spurs. On nights in which they are missing important players or fail to execute consistently, they’ll have a hard time hanging with the good teams. Let’s hope luck is on their side with injuries and absences and this 35-point beatdown turns out to be the worst one they’ll suffer this year.

Game notes

  • Lonnie Walker IV, for some reason, plays much more aggressively when DeMar DeRozan is out. He finished with 15 points in 15 minutes, showing off his versatility as a scorer by getting buckets from all three levels. Will he ever put it all together and perform consistently? It’s hard to say. But he’ll always have games like this one in which he reminds everyone that he has plenty of talent.
  • Derrick White and Dejounte Murray had their hands full on defense, which excuses their inefficient offensive night (a combined 9-for-24 from the field) to some extent. Even with bad shooting nights there was a lot to be encouraged by anyway. White let it fly from outside and had moments in which he was everywhere on defense, while Murray helped on the boards and tried to be aggressive. Neither stepped up in DeRozan’s absence, but both were decent.
  • The same can be said of Keldon Johnson. He was not a big factor, especially on the boards, but that’s not too surprising since he moved down to small forward, with Trey Lyles taking DeRozan’s spot in the starting lineup. Still, 10 points in 5-for-7 shooting is not bad from Johnson.
  • Most of the issues the Spurs had were at the team level, but two individual performances really did hurt them. Patty Mills and Rudy Gay had no made field goals in this one. With DeRozan out, the bench veterans were supposed to help stabilize the offense but simply couldn’t do it.
  • Jakob Poeltl did Jakob Poeltl things, namely setting screens and protecting the paint, but he wasn’t a strong presence on either end. His backup, Drew Eubanks, took advantage of the extra minutes he got, since there was a quarter and a half of garbage time, to put together a very impressive stat line. The center spot is still a bit of a question mark at this point, but for the most part both Poeltl and Eubanks did their job.
  • Tre Jones and Luka Samanic also shined in garbage time, which is encouraging. Jones is just solid. There’s nothing flashy about him, but he could turn out to be a good backup point guard thanks to his poise. Luka, on the other hand, showed flashes of brilliance. He scored in the post and even handled the ball, proving that he’s not just a spot-up shooter. He could be special. There are not a lot of 6’10 guys who can create room with a crossover and finish like this.
  • Keita Bates-Diop exited the game with an injury that looked like a pulled hamstring. The Spurs need bodies, so hopefully it’s not anything too serious.
  • I feel bad for Brett Brown. This Sixers roster makes a lot more sense than the one he had to coach last season. The additions of Seth Curry and Danny Green brought a lot more shooting and Dwight Howard on his current contract makes a lot more sense as Embiid’s backup than Al Horford ever did. Hopefully Brown will get another shot somewhere.

Next game: @Pistons on Monday

The Spurs will travel to Detroit for a SEGABABA on Monday. The Pistons are terrible, so it should be a winnable game as long the energy level and execution are there.