Game Review | Defense, Young Talent Key Impressive Win in San Antonio

by Brian Seltzer Reporter


Dating back to Brett Brown’s first day on the job, his coaching tenure has revolved around developing young talent, and molding the 76ers through a defense-first approach - and not always in that order, either.

Friday in San Antonio, those two factors converged in the most emphatic of ways, and combined to yield not only the team’s best win so far this season, but arguably its most symbolic performance since Brown left the Spurs’ bench to begin overseeing the Sixers’ patient climb back towards contention.

In fitting fashion, it was youthful standouts and defense that indeed ruled the day, as the Sixers delivered a convincing victory over San Antonio at AT&T Center, 97-78. For most of the night, the game wasn’t even that close.

The Sixers raced out to a 20-9 lead before the first quarter was through, were up by 19 at the half, and stretched the gap as wide as 25 in the third quarter.

The Sixers’ triumph, which marked the largest road margin of victory over San Antonio in franchise history, was their first in the Alamo City since 2004, and and just their third in San Antonio since 1985.

The win also delivered for the Sixers their first season series sweep of the Spurs since 2004.

Through it all, the Sixers’ defense was stout, stifling, and helped to set the tone for the game. San Antonio managed to hit just 40.0 percent of its shots, and was held to 3 for 24 shooting from 3-point territory. The Spurs didn’t deposit their first triple until the final minute of the third period, after starting the evening 0 for 14 from beyond the arc.

“Just playing tough and great defense,” said Ben Simmons, as much responsible for Friday’s rare outcome as anyone else.

Once again deploying an aggressive approach, as he did a game earlier versus the Chicago Bulls, Simmons got the Sixers going. He wound up with a game-high 21 points, and went 10 for 11 from the field. The Rookie of the Year candidate also supplied 5 rebounds, 7 assists, and 2 steals, and was a major part of the Sixers’ defensive success.

“We’re going to come in and play hard, and that’s the end result for us,” Simmons’ said of the Sixers’ attitude “We want to win.”

That hunger not only manifested itself defensively Friday, but in respect to rebounding, too.

Joel Embiid emerged as the face of a relentless group effort, grabbing 14 of the Sixers’ 50 caroms. They outdid San Antonio by 14 on the backboards overall, and were plus-seven off misses.

The Sixers’ ability to control the glass subsequently allowed them to dial up a difference-making run game that the opposition struggled to slow. By intermission, the Sixers had built up a hefty 12-0 advantage in fastbreak points, a key subplot at that juncture.

With 18 points, Embiid manufactured his 21st double-double of the season. He was joined in double-digits by Dario Saric (15 pts), Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (10 pts), and Justin Anderson (12 pts).

For Simmons, however, the Spurs had no answer. All but one of his baskets were the result of either a driving lay-up or dunk in the paint.

“It was a huge win,” Simmons said, “especially against a team like this.”

One that’s certainly been in the making for a long time.

Defense Shines

In a pairing that pitted the NBA’s third and second-ranked defenses against one another, it was the Sixers (#3-102.7 defensive rating) that outshined San Antonio (#2-100.5 drtg) Friday at AT&T Center.

Brett Brown’s crew relied on its size, length, strength, and overall youthful, energetic spirit to disrupt the Spurs all night. The Sixers were active, gave help on a consistent basis, had active hands in passing lanes, contested jumpers, got back in transition, and switched smoothly and effectively.

“We played really well defensively,” said Joel Embiid. “We were physical. We got the stops we needed.”

The Sixers were especially strong on defense in the first half, during which San Antonio shot 35.0 percent from the field, and misfired on all 10 of its 3-point heaves.

While the Spurs missed a few quality looks to begin the game, the Sixers didn’t waste their chance to make life even more difficult on their hosts. As San Antonio struggled to find its shooting touch, the Sixers appeared to double-down inside, refusing to give the Spurs anything easy on the interior.

“I think we played good defense,” said Brown, who called the Sixers’ first-half defense “excellent.”

“By and large, I thought our defense was the thing that stood out most to me.”

San Antonio’s 78 points Friday represented a new season-low, while its three 3-pointers was the team’s second-lowest total of the year.

Win Showcases Group Effort

Former lottery picks Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric might have been the headliners in Friday’s win, but the Sixers received vital contributions from across the roster en route to downing San Antonio.

Starting again at shooting guard in place of JJ Redick (left leg) and Jerryd Bayless (left wrist), Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot netted 10 points (4-10 fg, 2-6 fg), reaching double-digits for the fourth time in as many fill-in assignments for the two aforementioned vets.

Members of the Sixers’ reserve corps held their own as well. Justin Anderson tallied 12 points (5-7 fg, 2-2 3fg) for the second game in a row, while T.J. McConnell (5 pts, 3 reb, 4 ast, 1 stl), Trevor Booker (7 pts, 6 reb), and Amir Johnson (2 pts, 2 reb, 2 ast) came through in critical spots.

Following Friday’s win, Brett Brown was eager to highlight the influence of the Sixers’ collective effort.

“It’s hard to anoint anybody,” Brown said, when considering Friday’s top performers. “I think it was a fantastic team effort. We stayed focused throughout all 48 minutes, and did an excellent job defending them.”

Brown Fifth Visit Back Best Yet

With the Sixers belonging to the Eastern Conference, and the Spurs to the West, Brett Brown passes through San Antonio but once a season these days. Nevertheless, the return visits remain special.

The distance between his current stint with the Sixers and his 12 seasons as a Spurs assistant only grows farther apart with time, but Brown still vividly remembers fans greeting San Antonio at the airport after big wins, and how every path, branch, and windowsill along the city’s famed River Walk was packed for championship celebrations.

“It all adds up to great memories,” Brown said Friday.

His old boss was praiseworthy in defeat.

“Philadelphia was great, they were physical,” said Gregg Popovich. “Brett has got them really executing well, and playing with confidence. They did it at both ends of the floor. Their defense got us out of everything, and our defense wasn’t great. Their speed got us, and we didn’t get back in transition. I thought [the 76ers] did a great job.”

Sixers Social:

There was so much good Ben Simmons offered the Sixers Friday, but just as critical as his scoring output and facilitating was against San Antonio, so too was his defense. Having thrown down his fair share of highlight-worthy dunks throughout the night, the Aussie put his ups to use on the defensive end in this third quarter sequence.

Up Next:

The next stop on one of the Sixers’ longest-remaining road trips this season is Oklahoma City, where on Sunday, they’ll get a nationally-televised re-match with the Thunder. Back on December 15th, when the two clubs squared off for the first time, 15 extra minutes of play were required. It was OKC that prevailed, 119-117, in an exciting, fun triple-overtime affair. Joel Embiid paced all participants with 34 points, while the Thunder All-Star trio of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 75 points.