The San Antonio Spurs came to the Wells Fargo Center with a seven-game losing streak and faced a Philadelphia 76ers team that hadn’t lost at home this season. Both streaks continued on Friday night as Philadelphia rolled to a 115-104 victory.
On a night when Joel Embiid experienced foul trouble, the 76ers needed other starters to step up in key stretches. That’s precisely what happened. Tobias Harris, Ben Simmons and Furkan Korkmaz each found ways to contribute until Embiid returned and dominated.
As the 76ers lineup thrived, San Antonio’s starting five ran into plenty of issues. Defense remained a glaring problem and after dropping their eighth consecutive game, it’s become clear that change must come.
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers from Friday night’s ESPN clash between the Spurs and 76ers.
Winner: Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Even when Embiid gets into foul trouble and can’t play 30-plus minutes, he finds a way to make the most of his time on the court. Embiid knew he could take advantage of tonight’s matchup against LaMarcus Aldridge and he did just that.
Embiid dropped 21 points on an extremely efficient night with 9-of-13 shots made. He also contributed on the defensive side with a steal and a block, while also dominating the glass for 11 defensive rebounds. It’s arguably the best he’s looked offensively this season and it could be the start of an incredible run. Now we get to see how he performs on the second night of a back-to-back, the biggest test of all.
Loser: Bryn Forbes, San Antonio Spurs
It’s time for Popovich to end this failed experiment. If seven consecutive losses weren’t enough to convince him to make a change, perhaps this disastrous start will make him realize Forbes shouldn’t be starting moving forward.
It’s more than the defense. Forbes went 1-for-8 from the three-point line with more turnovers than assists and steals. Of course, Philadelphia routinely found ways to switch and exploit his defensive limitations. Forbes’ ugly two-way performance proved costly in a game that was close for most of the night. Now it’s up to Popovich to make the right decision.
Winner: Rudy Gay, San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio looked out of it early on Friday until Gay took the court. The 76ers couldn’t find an answer for him as he exploded for six points off the bench quickly. The 33-year-old kept it going in the second quarter, finding different ways to burn Philadelphia. He finished the second quarter with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting and kept the game close for most of the night. While the Spurs ultimately fell short, Gay did everything he could with a 22-point, four-rebound effort in 27 minutes.
Winner: Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers
Even if Simmons’ shooting remains a work in progress, he finds ways to make a difference in close games. He struggled to find his shot tonight, but he made up for it by feeding playmakers on this offense, providing lockdown defense and picking up the triple-double.
Philadelphia’s star point guard set the tone early with four assists in the first quarter. He showed intense effort on the defensive end, using his athleticism, length and hustle to take away passing lanes and make shots difficult. Now, Simmons needs to commit to improving his free-throw shooting, or else “Hack-a-Simmons” will become the go-to strategy for opposing teams in the fourth quarter.
Loser: LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio Spurs
While the box score might look impressive for Aldridge, the All-Star center showed little interest in defending anyone on the court. For all of the positive contributions he made with his scoring, defense and rebounding remained two glaring issues.
He didn’t just take poor positioning against players in the paint, he left guys open to make easy buckets. Furthermore, he got crushed on the boards with only two rebounds in the final three quarters. The 34-year-old’s defensive effort isn’t going to improve as the losses pile up, so it might be time for the Spurs to start exploring a rebuild and trading Aldridge.
Winner: Furkan Korkmaz, Philadelphia 76ers
It hasn’t always been pretty this season for Korkmaz. The 22-year-old has dealt with a lot of inconsistency, but we saw the best of his talent on Friday night. Whenever the Spurs started to get on a run, Korkmaz answered with a big shot to light up the crowd. He exploded for 17 points, the most since Nov. 10, and matched his season-high with two steals.
The 76ers needed Korkmaz to step into a bigger role with Josh Richardson sidelined and Korkmaz delivered. Games like this will further boost his confidence and with more consistency, he’ll make one of the NBA’s best teams even better.