Combined with Boston's 88-76 win over the Washington Wizards, the defeat shrunk their lead to a half-game over the Celtics in the Atlantic Division. San Antonio improved to 33-14 and swept the back-to-back-to-backs for a fourth straight win.
Further adding to the Sixers' misery: Just before the game, starting forward Andre Iguodala was pulled from the lineup due to patella tendinitis in his left knee. It is the first game Iguodala has missed this season, after missing 15 last year, most of them due to tendinitis in his other knee.
"This team brings out the worst in us," said coach Doug Collins. "They spread the floor, get you in pick-and-roll all night. [Tony] Parker and [Manu] Ginobili, you can't keep them out of the paint. But we gave them 27 points off turnovers, that's the game. We normally turn the ball over 11 times a game and we turned it over 21 times. With all that said and done, with 3 minutes and 30 seconds to go in the third quarter it was 68-63."
It was a huge turnaround, even bigger when you consider Popovich had taken out Parker with 5:11 left in the quarter with a seven-point lead. You knew Parker was going to rest for those final 5-plus minutes and that the Sixers had to take advantage. At first they did, cutting that lead down to five. But the Spurs finished the quarter on an 8-2 run, then started the fourth by scoring 12 of the first 14 points to amp the lead to 21 at 88-67.
Almost as concerning as the blowout was the attitude displayed by most of the Sixers. Heads were drooped, plays were questioned and frustration boiled over everywhere. Like sharks smelling blood, veterans Parker (21 points, seven assists) and Ginobili (11 points, five assists and five rebounds) frustrated the Sixers even more with their consistent play.
The most enraged player of the night appeared to be Spencer Hawes, who scored six points in his 26:45 of play. When a couple of calls didn't go his way, he appeared to reach an explosion point at a very rapid speed. And when his play showed the rustiness that naturally comes with a stretch of missing 27 of 29 games, he nearly lost it.
"I'm not playing 100 percent," he said of his strained Achilles'. "Physically it's fine. You want to downplay it as much as possible when you're coming back from something like that, but it's just something that's hard to be patient with."
It couldn't have been easy for anyone with a rooting interest in the Sixers to be patient with this game. Not when you consider the turnovers, the poor shooting (35-for-85, 41.2 percent) and allowing San Antonio to score 54 points in the paint without Duncan or his backup, Tiago Splitter. Instead, 6-7 forward DeJuan Blair owned the middle, scoring 19 points.
"I just thought they sped us up," Collins said. "We start playing fast and Spencer's out of sync, he's not playing well, and when he gets out of sync he gets upset. I told him we can't go there. I thought we started complaining too much with the officials and getting distracted and I said, 'Guys, stop it.' But it's getting to be that time of the year. Everybody's a little tired, everybody's a little on edge a little bit.
"I told Spencer, 'You finished up the season so well last year and you got off to such a great start this year.' What happens is you come back and you have some restrictions on you about playing and you come out [of the game]. But he's got to settle down."
Collins said he didn't find out about Iguodala until the team was watching film before the game and he noticed his lone All-Star wasn't there. Informed that he was seeing a doctor, Collins went to Iguodala and asked how he felt before deciding not to risk further injury. His status for Tuesday's home game against Cleveland is uncertain. Iguodala was not made available to the media after the game.
"Without Dre it's tough, offensively and defensively," said Elton Brand, who led the Sixers with 14 points and nine rebounds. "He gets shots for everybody, his defensive presence out there was certainly missed. Hopefully everything goes well with his knee."
Nothing much went well Sunday night.
Jodie Meeks, starting for Andre Iguodala, scored 11 points while Evan Turner and Jrue Holidayeach had 10. All of Holiday's came in the first quarter . . . This is the seventh straight home win for the Spurs over the Sixers . . . The Spurs set a season high with 14 steals . . . Gary Neal (sprained foot) was also out for the Spurs . . . Sam Young saw his most action of the season for the Sixers, playing just under 30 minutes and collecting eight points and nine rebounds.
Contact Bob Cooney at email@example.com