The Philadelphia 76ers faced off against the San Antonio Spurs tonight. With the Spurs in town, the Sixers also welcomed in former head coach Brett Brown, who is now an assistant coach with San Antonio — his second go around there.
From the jump, the Sixers, namely Joel Embiid, looked significantly more engaged than he had in the first two games. They held the Spurs to just 19 points in the first. Despite this start, the wheels began to fall off as Philadelphia struggled on both ends against an uber-athletic San Antonio squad.
It became quickly clear that, regardless of whatever preseason claims there were, the Spurs are not attempting to go “winless for Wembanyama.” They are, in fact, competing for something, perhaps just the respect of the game, more likely establishing a winning culture as they develop their young squad.
Regardless of their mission this season, the Spurs made matters tough for Philadelphia early on and nearly ran away with the game at points. The Sixers would fight back, on the back of Joel Embiid taking the lead in the fourth quarter. Unfortunately, they would eventually succumb to San Antonio and the combined efforts of Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell.
Though many will be quick to blame head coach Doc Rivers for the loss — which, to a degree, is merited — there was very little that clicked for the Sixers tonight as a team. It’s clear that the athleticism of the Spurs bothered Philadelphia early on. They only faced even more difficulty thanks to the defensive fundamentals coach Gregg Popovich has instilled in his team.
Hustle points and rebounds were also an issue once again for the Sixers, a disappointment considering the emphasis the team placed on bringing in players to solve that exact issue.
In terms of positive takeaways, however, the play of Joel Embiid much improved over the first two games of the Sixers’ season. With 40 points, 13 rebounds, and three assists, that classic Embiid game fans were waiting for finally broke through.
Another positive takeaway was the late play of young star Tyrese Maxey who scored 11 of his 25 points in the fourth. The Sixers have yet to find a clear closer to their games — as seen by the ending of their game against Milwaukee — though, in Maxey, they have a clear microwave scorer.
After the game, spirits were understandably downhearted, but the team made one point clear, despite this slow start, their season is far from over.
According to both Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid, there were issues on both sides, but the lack of defense was the larger issue tonight.
“…lack of defensive effort. You know, we do have to give them credit; they made tough shots, but I mean, on our part, that’s not the standard of defense we hold ourselves to. The second quarter, 35 points for them. The third quarter, 31. You know, our standard is 25 and less… That’s not how we know we can defend.”Tobias Harris
“It’s three games, and they’ve been disappointing losses for us, but this is a marathon. It’s hard at the moment, and everybody is going to analyze every little thing, and you know, we should because we expect that out of ourselves, and we hold ourselves to that standard (it’s) who we are as a team.”Tobias Harris
Joel Embiid, joined by his loving son, Arthur, acknowledged that he’s still trying to work his way back from the plantar fasciitis.
“…Coming into training camp, I haven’t really done anything too much, so it really slowed me down, but, you know, I’m still trying to work my way back, and hopefully, everything goes back to normal.”Joel Embiid
Embiid also stated that the injury began while the Sixers were in LA roughly two months ago.
“Over time, it just kept getting worse and worse and worse. And then it got to the point where I couldn’t walk, and it was really painful…but, I’m fine; there’s no need for excuses. We just have to play better; we just have to be better.”Joel Embiid
Coach Rivers chalked tonight’s loss up to simply not playing well enough in all regards. He also stated that he is not worried long-term; the team just has to play according to the game plan, which in Rivers’ words, consists of “layups or threes, contested twos late in the clock.”
When asked if it was a matter of re-adjusting the rotation (Keith Pompey), Rivers quickly stated, “No, it’s a matter of playing better.”
Hopefully, the Sixers can find a way to accomplish just that against the Indiana Pacers. The level of audible dissatisfaction from the fans will certainly only rise if they do not.