The Sixers still were getting used to a new coach and system. They were disjointed at both ends of the floor, and it showed in a 116-93 loss that dropped their record to 2-8.
To put that in perspective, that's as many losses as San Antonio had entering Friday's game with the Sixers.
"It's a great measuring stick, with how poor we played then and how good we played now," Sixers forward Elton Brand said.
In the three months since that loss to San Antonio, the Sixers have made tangible progress.
"When we first played them, it looked like on offense they didn't know what they were doing, and now they are playing together," said Spurs point guard Tony Parker, who shot 10 for 13 in the first game and 3 for 10 on Friday night. "Now, defensively, they are really good."
To win Friday against the Spurs (now 44-9), the Sixers had no other choice but to grind it out on defense.
On a night when Brand, Andre Iguodala, and Lou Williams shot a combined 9 for 39 from the floor, the defense had to pick it up.
While Jrue Holiday bailed out the offense with 27 points and Spencer Hawes added 13, Brand and Iguodala helped in other ways.
Brand pulled down 17 rebounds, while Iguodala provided strong late-game defense against the player Sixers coach Doug Collins calls the Spurs' engine, Manu Ginobili.
"They still got some easy buckets, but we kept it to a minimum," Brand said. "It's the defense; the defense has grown a lot."
Though Holiday's performance wasn't surprising, Hawes picked an opportune time to return to double figures in the scoring column. He had not scored in double figures the last 19 games.
Hawes said the first San Antonio game seems like a season ago.
"That San Antonio game, we try to throw that out and look at it as an anomaly, like it didn't happen," he said. "That was a tough time for us, and we can see how far we have come, but we know we have a lot of improvement left."
Though no one will dispute the improvement needed to continue moving forward, there is a certain comfort in seeing how far the Sixers have come.
"We were trying to get accustomed to each other, new guys, getting used to a new coach, being on the road," Iguodala said. "It's now a kind of different dynamic, but at the same time we are playing better basketball."
That was obvious in what was arguably the Sixers' most impressive victory of the season, three months after one of their more discouraging defeats against the same team.
Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.