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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the 76ers

A historic night in Philadelphia.

San Antonio Spurs v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Every once in awhile you run into an unstoppable force. The San Antonio Spurs came face-to-face with a historic performance from Joel Embiid in a 133-123 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

The big man scored a franchise-record 70 points, adding in 18 rebounds and 5 assists. Embiid did it all against San Antonio. He hit tough contested jumpers over the outstretched arms of Victor Wembanyama. He punished mismatches with Jeremy Sochan in the low post. He grabbed nine offensive rebounds, making the Spurs look like middle schoolers. He was even scoring through triple teams down low.

At a certain point you have to throw your hands up and admit that it was a historic night. San Antonio didn’t necessarily play poorly. Embiid made tough shots. Almost no one has been able to hit jump shots consistently when Wembanyama is contesting. Scoring through triple teams is not normal. But hey, that’s what makes Embiid the MVP.

Lost in all of this is that Wembanyama was great offensively, too. The rookie had 33 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks. He was aggressive attacking the basket and besides a few forced jumpers late in the game, took smart shots within the flow of the offense. He had a couple of tough finishes with his left hand, an impressive driving dunk through traffic and a dribble-pull-up three, showing the diversity of his game at 20-years-old.

Watching these two big men go at it had me wondering what Wemby will look like in his 10th NBA season? Like Wembanyama, Embiid was a 20-point scorer as soon as he stepped on an NBA floor. He’s gotten stronger, savvier, and has better touch than he had at 22-years-old. Wembanyama has all of the tools to be an Embiid-level player. Maybe in the next decade, Spurs fans will see Wemby break San Antonio’s single-game scoring record.

Takeaways:

  • Bad news for Tre Jones as he left the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent ankle injury. San Antonio has been playing some of it’s best basketball with Jones in the starting lineup. If he were to miss any time, the Spurs would have limited options at point guard. Blake Wesley has looked much better in his last few games, earning the backup point guard role over Malaki Branham. But is he ready to be a starting point guard? Branham has seemingly exited the rotation (he didn’t log a minute against Philadelphia) so it would seem unlikely that he would get the starting nod. Sochan has been playing well off the ball. Would the Spurs disrupt that flow to move him back to point guard? It’s entirely possible San Antonio could go out and acquire a point guard via trade, with the deadline just a few weeks away. According to Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News, Jones is “fine,” but ankle injuries can swell and worsen over night depending on treatment. The severity of Jones injury could shape the Spurs in multiple ways over the next few weeks.
  • Another solid performance lost to the historic performance of Embiid came from Devin Vassell. The wing had 22 points and 9 assists while knocking down 2-6 threes. Vassell’s improvements as a playmaker have been a joy to watch over this recent stretch. He was vital to the team’s comeback against Washington on Saturday, making smart pass after smart pass. Against Philly he balanced finding his shot from deep, getting to the basket (he went 6-6 from the free throw line) and finding the open man. With Jones out, hopefully Vassell can keep up the playmaking streak.
  • Julian Champagnie is on a bit of a hot streak over the last few games. He went 3-3 from the three-point line on Monday. Champagnie is knocking down 38% of his threes in January. After struggling to shoot it at the beginning of the season, the swingman has found his rhythm over the last two months.
  • Offensive rebounds continue to be an issue for the Spurs. They gave up 19 of them to the 76ers on Monday. With Wembanyama’s tendency to leak out for easy points in transition, sometimes it’s hard for the smaller Spurs to gang rebound. That’s the offset of the exciting transition baskets. With the Spurs wanting to play fast and get their big man easy buckets, this may just be a symptom of the play style. It will be interesting to see if Gregg Popovich adjusts their mentality around rebounding should the problem continue.