Combined with Boston's 88-76 win over the Washington Wizards, the loss shrank their lead over the Celtics in the Atlantic Division to a half-game. San Antonio improved to 33-14 and swept the back-to-back-to-backs.
Further adding to the misery of the night for the Sixers was that just before the game, starting forward Andre Iguodala was pulled from the lineup because of tendinitis in his left knee. It was the first game Iguodala missed this season after missing 15 a year ago, most of them due to tendinitis in his other knee.
"This team brings out the worst in us," coach Doug Collins said. "They spread the floor, get you in middle 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 three 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 that Parker was going to rest for those final five-plus minutes and that the Sixers had to take advantage. At first they did, cutting that lead to five. But the Spurs finished 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 some Sixers. Heads were drooped, plays were questioned and frustration boiled over everywhere. As if sharks smelling blood, veterans Parker (21 points, seven assists) and Ginobili (11 points, five each assists and 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 very rapidly reach an explosion point. And when his play showed the rust that missing 27 of 29 games recently will accumulate, he nearly lost it.
"I'm not playing 100 percent," he said. "Physically, [my strained Achilles is] 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-foot-7 forward DeJuan Blair owned the middle, scoring 19 points.
"I just thought they sped us up," said Collins. "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.' . . . Everybody's a little tired."
Contact Bob Cooney at email@example.com.