With a new young core, there will be growing pains. And the San Antonio Spurs (29-37) found that out first hand as they fell 132-130 to the Philadelphia 76ers (40-27) at the VISA Athletic Center on Monday night.
The loss is the first for San Antonio in the bubble, who fell back to 10th place and are now percentage points behind the Portland Trail Blazers for the ninth spot in the Western Conference.
“We’re fighting to get into the playoffs so it stings a lot,” Spurs Head Coach Gregg Popovich said of the loss.
For the first time in the bubble, the Spurs’ “young core” struggled. Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, and Lonnie Walker combined for 21 points on 7-of-21 shooting by the end of the third quarter. Walker finished with five points, while Murray had 13 but shot just 28 percent.
Derrick White put in 20 points for the night but only had three assists. He had two big turnovers in the second half that led to Philadelphia extending their lead to as many as 14 points.
The Spurs struggled to contain Joel Embiid, who got to the line early and often. He scored 27 points and a total of 12 times. Jakob Poeltl picked up two quick fouls less than five minutes into the game and Philadelphia took advantage of San Antonio’s weakened frontcourt as a result.
Tobias Harris added 25 while Shake Milton made a go-ahead 3-pointer to give the 76ers the win.
“Everybody’s sick in the stomach,” Murray said. “We fought so hard, and we had that game in our hands.”
Three Standout Players
The Spurs’ leading scorer put the team on his back from the opening tip as he poured in another 30 point game. He finished with 30 points on 55 percent shooting while adding five rebounds and three assists.
With San Antonio’s young guys struggling, DeRozan remained aggressive early and often. He got into his groove with the midrange and sliced his way to the lane for buckets. His performance was upended by the last-second shot to give Philly the win.
“We figured they were going to go down to Embiid,” DeRozan said of the final play. “I think we were more conscious of trying to help whoever was guarding Embiid instead of just trying to stay home and not give up a 3. The young kid took a big shot. I give him credit. He hit it.”
White struggled early but helped the Spurs rally back in the fourth quarter. He finished the game 20 points, including a big four-point play to help the Silver and Black cut their 14-point deficit down to just three.
The next step in White’s development will be consistency and being smarter with the ball on the offensive end. If he can do those two things, the Spurs will be just fine moving forward.
The Spurs have a bright future with Keldon Johnson on the squad and so far in the bubble, he is showing fans what they can expect from him. He’s a scrappy player on defense and has a nice shot on the offensive end, always looking for ways to get open and drive to the rim.
He scored a career-best 15 points off the bench and had a few key moments in San Antonio’s fourth-quarter rally.
“Same thing he does every night,” Popovich said. “He’s a monster competitor, he’s a fine young player.”
The Spurs are now 29-37 on the season and will return to the court on Wednesday afternoon when they face the Denver Nuggets (44-23) at 3 p.m.