With the San Antonio Spurs facing yet another FIGASENI and ten games over the final 15 days of the regular season, Gregg Popovich used a rare home game that might as well be a scheduled loss against the league-leading Philadelphia 76ers to rest most of his starters. After a bad first quarter, the Spurs admirably fought all the way back to force overtime, but the basketball gods just refused to ever let them take the lead, and they lost 113-111 at the buzzer.
Lonnie Walker led five Spurs in double-figures with 23 points, and Gorgui Dieng had his best game yet as a Spur with 17 points and some much-needed interior defense. Joel Embiid roasted the Spurs early and fought through foul trouble for 34 points, and Seth Curry had 22 points on 6-6 from three.
- For the rest game, Pop once again sat DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl, while Dejounte Murray was out with a sore knee (that may or may not warrant air quotes), plus Derrick White and Trey Lyles are presumed out for the rest of the season, so the Spurs were four main rotation players short for this one. Tre Jones, Drew Eubanks, and Rudy Gay each got the start tonight along with Devin Vassell, making Keldon Johnson the only usual starter available.
- The 76ers took full advantage of the Spurs inexperienced starting line-up early with their star-studded one, pick-and-rolling the Spurs’ defense to death as they looked timid early on. Drew Eubanks frequently got caught out on the outside of Joel Embiid, who had 13 points in the first quarter, and 22 points of their first quarter points either came in paint (18) or at the line (4). Still, to their credit, the Spurs regrouped a bit and kept the 76ers from completely running away, somehow making a 37-27 deficit heading into the second quarter feel not so bad after being down by as much as 17.
- The bench was the main thing that kept the Spurs in the game during the first half. Some of that was thanks to Dieng, who got a chance to show why the Spurs signed him with 9 points in the first half, including a three and very satisfying steal-and-slam against Dwight Howard. After Eubanks briefly returned, he was quickly replaced by Dieng again to try and slow down Embiid, and it worked to an extent. His path to the bucket was at least a little tougher, and Dieng managed to draw a charge to force his third foul and send him to the bench with a couple of minutes left in the half.
- Walker continued his hot scoring in the first half with 16 points on 3-4 from three, including a posterization of former Spur Danny Green. His third three actually brought the Spurs within three points, 55-52 before Curry and Green hit consecutive threes to get the 76ers up 61-52 at the half. Gay was the only starter in double figures in the first half with 11 points.
- The starters came out of halftime more energetic and less timid than they started the game, but defensive breakdowns were still an issue as Eubanks backed off of Curry, leaving him wide open for a three while Jones was in no-man’s land between Curry and Embiid. Another open three for Embiid — you accept threes from him but not wide open ones — forced a quick Pop timeout after the lead was pushed back to double figures. Philly got the lead up to 16 on an 11-0 run, but the Spurs still refused to completely go away, keeping the 76ers within arm’s reach (as in around 10 points) most of the third quarter, and they finished down 89-79.
- The Spurs started the fourth on an 11-5 run, and fans will be happy to know that four of those came from an aggressive Luka Samanic, whose play tends to depend on his confidence level. It grew as he fought through a nudge from Furkahn Korkmaz for the dunk and put an offensive rebound back that counted due to basket interference by Howard. He may have had another in transition but it was waved off due to offensive goaltending by Eubanks. He also played some decent help defense on Embiid.
- The Spurs got within two late in the game at 100-98 but missed a couple of chances to tie or take the lead. Gay finally tied things up on a three and overall four-point possession after a Walker free throw due to a dead-ball foul on Ben Simmons. The Spurs continued to match buckets with the 76ers and had a chance to take the lead, but a Patty Mills three-point attempt was blocked by Matisse Thybulle. Fortunately, Embiid missed the game-winning attempt, and the Spurs had their third overtime game of the week.
- The basketball gods appeared against the Spurs in the low-scoring OT period. It took a timeout and then some for the officials to be notified that an Embiid bucket that gave them a two-point lead was actually a shot clock violation. On the next possession, Doc Rivers successfully challenged a call that would have given Embiid his fifth foul and Johnson two free throws, but it was very close. The Spurs still had several chances to take the lead but couldn’t quite do it, whether it was a missed FT, overturned foul, or missed lay-up in transition. Pop then unsuccessfully used his challenge to try and overturn a KJ charge. Then, after another Philly miss inside a minute left, Gay had a near-disastrous turnover by just losing the ball out of bounds on the way up the court, but he made up for it with a bucket to tie things up with 19 second left. Unfortunately, the Spurs failed to box out Simmons, and he tipped in an Embiid miss at the buzzer that just barely wasn’t offensive goaltending (as in by maybe millimeter) for the 113-111 win.
- Eubanks had a spectacular couple of weeks, but the last few games against teams with respectable backup bigs have exposed his limitations a bit. Even had he been coming off the bench instead of starting this one, Howard likely would have given him some trouble as well. Dieng’s breakout performance tonight, which seemed to show he is past the shoulder injury, just might be enough for him to move into back-up center duties.
For the 76ers fans’ perspective, visit Liberty Ballers.
The Spurs are headed back on the road to take on the league-leading Utah Jazz for a mini-series, beginning tomorrow. Tip-off will be at 9:00 PM CT on BSSW.