Ouch. After rallying back from a double-digit deficit, the San Antonio Spurs were a whisker away from winning their third consecutive game following the NBA’s resumption of play. Instead, the Spurs lost a heartbreaker to the Philadelphia 76ers by a final count of 132-130.
The first half was closely contested and neither team was able to gain much of an advantage. The Sixers led 35-32 at the end of the first period and were up 64-62 at intermission.
Things started going south for the good guys in the third quarter. The Spurs, who were playing their second game in as many days, looked sluggish and the Sixers seemed to figure out how to use their size and talent advantages. San Antonio spent much of the third quarter trailing by double figures and went into the fourth down 99-87.
The Spurs started showing signs of life in the final stanza but with six and a half minutes remaining, they were still down by nine points, 114-105. But thanks to a Derrick White three-pointer followed seconds later by a four-point play by White, the Spurs were suddenly down only two points, 114-112.
With San Antonio down four points with a little bit more than three minutes remaining, DeMar DeRozan took over. He scored eight points in the next two minutes to give the Spurs a four-point lead of their own with one minute left in regulation.
Unfortunately, that’s when things fell apart for the Silver and Black. Tobias Harris scored, the Spurs missed and then Joel Embiid split a pair of free throws to bring the Sixers within a point. After White followed suit by splitting his pair of freebies, Shake Milton hit a three-pointer for Philadelphia to give the bad guys a one-point lead.
With six seconds remaining, DeRozan drove to the rim and fed a rolling Jakob Poeltl. Sadly, Poeltl didn’t convert and the game was over.
Tough loss. Big picture, though, you have to be proud about how the Spurs played. Second day of a back-to-back against a team with much more size, talent and experience and San Antonio alllllmost stole it. The Spurs are playing a scrappy brand of basketball that is fun to watch. Even though they lost this game, if they can keep playing at this level, the playoffs remain a possibility.
Spurs vs. Sixers – Final Grades
With the Sixers size blowing up a lot of San Antonio’s halfcourt sets, DeMar DeRozan realized early he was going to have to carry more of the scoring load. He scored 11 points in the first quarter on 5-for-7 shooting from the field. After being silent for the middle two periods, DeRozan reappeared in the fourth. Down the stretch, he scored 13 points on 4-for-5 shooting from the field and 5-for-5 shooting from the line. His pass to Jakob Poeltl at the end didn’t work out but it wasn’t a bad decision on DeRozan’s part. Overall, I’m impressed with how the 30-year-old is operating on offense. He’s picking his spots smartly and he’s staying within the offense. When the Spurs need him, DeRozan has been there. He had some ugly moments on the defensive end but considering he’s constantly going against bigger players on that end, he’s competing enough not to be a complete liability.
While not quite as consistently aggressive as he was in the prior two outings, Derrick White did a lot of good. His three-point stroke looks really good and it appears as if he has successfully embraced the role of a high volume shooter that the Spurs desperately need in the starting lineup. When he has a crack of daylight, he’s squeezing the trigger. Beyond his outside shooting, White also had some strong drives to the hoop. Defensively, he was active and even made some plays in the paint. His only real blemishes on the night were a few sloppy plays on either end and the lack of his usual amount of playmaking.
Following an encouraging performance against the Memphis Grizzlies, Dejounte Murray came crashing back down to earth against the 76ers. Although he only had one turnover, his decision-making throughout left much to be desired. His shoot-pass decisions were questionable, to say the least. Defensively, he had a couple highlight plays but otherwise he was pedestrian on that end as well. To make matters worse, Murray’s decision-making deteriorated even further late in the game. He had an ill-advised shot late and followed it up soon after by inexplicably leaving Shake Milton wide open. Milton, a 44.9% three-point shooter, canned the open look. This loss wasn’t on Murray solely but San Antonio needs him to play smarter.
Lonnie Walker IV
It was difficult to tell if Lonnie Walker IV was out of gas, banged up, didn’t get enough touches or a little bit of all the above. Whatever the issue(s), Walker didn’t make much of an impact on either end in his 19 minutes. He had a three-pointer and a driving dunk on offense. Defensively, he wasn’t especially active. Let’s hope he bounces back with better performances between now and the end of the season.
I thought Jakob Poeltl staying out of foul trouble was vital if the Spurs were going to compete. That … didn’t happen. Poeltl picked up two fouls in the game’s first 69 seconds — not a nice way to begin the affair. He picked up his third foul less than 40 seconds into the second quarter. Poeltl compounded his foul trouble by being extremely passive in the minutes he was able to play in the first three and a half quarters. He wasn’t putting up much of a fight in any aspect of the game during that time, as his only concern was avoiding fouls. To Poeltl’s credit, he finally started playing decently well in the fourth. In fact, he played a key role in the comeback. But, all in all, the Spurs need more from their starting center and Poeltl needs to do more to prove that he’s a starting quality big man in this league. One defensive rebound, one block and missing the potential game-winner didn’t raise the restricted-free-agent-to-be’s value.
It was a bit of a weird game for Rudy Gay. Offensively, he took some dumb shots here and there and bogged down the ball movement constantly … but, at the end of the night, he hit enough shots to justify his actions. The Spurs would have been dead in the water without Gay’s 24 points in 24 minutes. San Antonio had trouble creating against Philly’s size and, as it turned out, needed Gay’s one-on-one ability to bail them out. Defensively, though, he was okay in the paint but he was pretty terrible out on the perimeter. Even if Gay knows he needs to close out on a shooter or rotate to the open man, it takes his 33-year-old body a couple long seconds to actually react and start moving in the right direction.
In his first couple of stints, Keldon Johnson was hesitating too much. That’s normal for a rookie but we hadn’t seen any hesitation out of him since play resumed in the bubble. To Johnson’s credit, he powered through the doubts and ended up scoring a career-high 15 points. He hit another three-pointer, created for himself off the dribble and muscled his way to the rim. He ended up going 6-for-7 at the free throw line and there were times the Spurs were hanging on mostly due to Johnson’s toughness. Defensively, Johnson wasn’t great but he got better as the game progressed and his bulldog style was helpful on that end as well.
He still has a lot of rough edges but you have to be encouraged by Drew Eubanks’ production. Playing against a big team that oozes know-how, he totaled six points, ten rebounds, two assists and two blocks. His touch — both shooting-wise and passing-wise — is surprisingly deft for this stage of his development and he really gets off the ground quickly for someone of his girth. Eubanks had a few bad turnovers and fouls but, overall, his play was impressive considering the circumstances.
Patty Mills was solid. On defense, he was hustling, tumbling and flopping enough to be a pest. The Sixers never really managed to take advantage of him on that end. On offense, Mills’ ability to create something out of just a high screen was valuable. He looks to be in good shape and he doesn’t show many signs of rust. If Bryn Forbes or Marco Belinelli returns from injury, it’ll be interesting to see if Mills continues to get minutes.
Much like Keldon Johnson, Quinndary Weatherspoon is making an impact due to his hustle and relentless approach. Defensively, he is quick enough to guard out on the perimeter. He offers strong, forceful help defense and has a nose for the ball. Most surprisingly of all is that he actually defends the rim rather well. Rookie point guards usually don’t do much in the paint but Weatherspoon sticks his nose in and the results are usually positive. On offense against the Sixers, he drained a pull-up three-pointer and his penetrate-and-pitch instincts are good. Weatherspoon isn’t an amazing prospect but he passes the eye-test as a player who could be a useful bench player as long as he figures out how to score consistently enough.
In his first real action with the Spurs, Tyler Zeller was able to aid the cause. He crashed the offensive glass and held up well on defense. If the Spurs decide to roster three centers next season, the 30-year-old still moves well enough to be a third string center signed to a non-guaranteed contract.
The Spurs almost pulled out an improbable win — and Pop deserves some of the credit. This is some of the best coaching he’s done all season … although, admittedly, that’s not a high bar. Playing Johnson more probably would have been helpful, though I do appreciate Weatherspoon getting a long look. Sitting Murray at the end would have been smart in retrospect but, then again, the youngster needs playing time to learn. Not overplaying DeRozan, Gay or Mills in a close game deserves applause. Pop realizes that the most important part of this restart for the Spurs is for the youth to gain experience — and he’s staying true to that course.