SAN ANTONIO – The Sixers and rookie coach Brett Brown have tried to use this season as a learning experience. The San Antonio Spurs delivered a whopper of a lesson on Monday night.
San Antonio used outstanding ball movement to make seldom-used Austin Daye look like a star, helping the Spurs win their 14th straight with a 113-91 victory over the Sixers (see Instant Replay).
“It felt like they were running 100 miles per hour out there,” Sixers forward Thaddeus Young said.
“You take one thing and they pick you apart with something else. You just have to pick your poison with a team like this. They have so many guys who can do different things and so many guys that can make plays.”
The loss was the Sixers' 25th straight, putting them on the brink of NBA infamy.
The Sixers next play Thursday in Houston, where a loss would match the NBA record for consecutive losses set by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010-11.
Avoiding that dubious mark won’t be easy.
The Rockets have won four straight, rolling to a 100-89 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday night.
“Obviously, it's a rough season for them,” Spurs veteran Tim Duncan said. “It's a rebuilding season for them. [Brown] knows that, they know that. They have a lot of young guys. He's just trying to get the system in place that has them playing the way he wants them playing. It's a process. He knows that.”
Yet, the Sixers can take hope from what San Antonio was able to accomplish.
Daye, who was averaging 2.3 minutes while playing in only four games since being acquired from Toronto on Feb. 20, finished with a season-high 22 points. The 6-foot-11 forward finished 6 for 10 on three-pointers and had six rebounds in 29 minutes.
Brown, who spent seven seasons as an assistant under Popovich prior to being named Sixers head coach, said Daye’s breakout performance was a byproduct of San Antonio’s system.
“He’s lucky -- and I’ve seen this over so many years -- people can come into that system and shine,” Brown said. “This system creates opportunities for everybody, and he took advantage of those. The attention you have to give others and the movement that they have in their structure allowed him to get freed up a lot. He reaped the benefit of playing in that system.”
Even with starters Tony Parker, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter all sitting out, the Spurs still managed to dish out 31 assists and shot 44 from 79 from the field. San Antonio had nine players score at least five points.
“In my opinion, that’s how you play the game,” Brown said. “So what you see is a system born out of many, many years of corporate knowledge where the winks and the blinks and the wrinkles and subtle nuances [allow them to] understand each other’s tendencies, and the offense shines. It’s not just a byproduct of good players or a great coach. It’s a decade worth of corporate knowledge. That’s what you aspire to get to.”
In comparison, the Sixers only had seven of 10 players score and six of those were in double figures.
“We run the completely same offense,” Young said. “But they do all the ins and outs and we don't. That's the biggest thing. They ran a play that we knew, but they ran it a completely different way than we ran it. And that's because they knew we were going to pick apart the first side and second side, so they came from a whole different angle and ran the play. We were all mind-boggled about how they all knew ins and outs.”
Duncan added 19 points in 23 minutes and Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills scored 15 points each for the league-best Spurs (54-16).
Young and Michael Carter-Williams each scored 19 points to lead the Sixers (15-56). Byron Mullens added 15, Elliot Williams had 14 and James Anderson and Henry Sims each had 10.
The Sixers had 22 assists while shooting 40.9 percent from the field and made only 11 of 33 three-point attempts.
The youthful Sixers had a solid start, with Carter-Williams attacking the basket and Hollis Thompson hitting a pair of threes. Williams’ dunk with 3:44 left in the first quarter tied the game at 19, but it was downhill from there.
Following a timeout, the Spurs outscored the Sixers 26-5, capped by a 19-0 run to bridge the first and second quarters.
The Sixers went scoreless for 6½ minutes before Mullens hit a three-pointer that cut San Antonio’s lead to 45-27 with 6:35 left in the first half.
The Spurs never trailed by less than 10 points the remainder of the game, however, allowing them to rest veterans Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw.
San Antonio looked at the victory as just another chance to improve in hopes of capturing its fifth NBA title.
“Pop is still not satisfied, obviously, with what we're doing,” Duncan said. “We want to stay healthy. We want to stay moving in the right direction.”
The Sixers’ reaction to the loss was telling in that the players preached a similar message. While they did not even qualify for the postseason, they are on a quest to get better.
“I'm not really worried about the streak and what people talk about it,” Carter-Williams said. “We're just worried about getting better each and every day. Of course we want to go out there and win a ballgame. But we just have to keep getting better and hopefully a win will come.”