Hot Sixers to test reeling Spurs

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The San Antonio Spurs will try to shrug off a gut-punch loss that set records for all the wrong reasons and refocus when they host the surging Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday in a key game for both squads.

The Spurs (31-31) head home after a calamitous 143-140 overtime loss in Boston on Friday that will be memorable because of what San Antonio didn't do rather than what it did. In a crazy, up-and-down season influenced by COVID and a compressed, grueling schedule, Friday's loss was the toughest to take.

San Antonio is in ninth place and still is in great position to make the Western Conference play-in mini-tournament.

The Spurs played near-flawless basketball for 30 minutes, building a 32-point second-quarter lead before settling for a 77-48 advantage at halftime. The Spurs made 71.4 percent of their shots from the floor, a season-best for a half, while their 77 points matched a season-high.

Boston roared back, as Jayson Tatum scored a franchise-high-tying 60 points, with the Celtics' comeback going into the record books as San Antonio's largest blown halftime lead ever and just the second time in NBA history that a team lost after being up by at least 29 points at the break.

"It's a matter of experience, mental toughness, understanding that there are a lot of plays and that's what the 48-minute game is all about," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after loss. "People are going to make runs. You can't let yourself get down ... It's a tough, tough lesson."

DeMar DeRozan scored 30 points and distributed a career-best 14 assists for the Spurs in Friday's loss. Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker IV added 24 points, Rudy Gay had 16 and Jakob Poeltl racked up 15 points and 10 rebounds.

"Give Boston credit - they played hard, but we can't let a 32-point game get away from us," DeRozan said. "Teams are going to come out and just let it all hang out. That's what they did."

The 76ers (42-21) travel to the Alamo City on the heels of a dominating 126-104 home win over Atlanta on Friday. Philadelphia will enter Sunday' game in second place in the Eastern Conference, just off the pace set by Brooklyn.

Dwight Howard led the 76ers with 19 points and 11 rebounds off the bench, with Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid scoring 18 points each as Philadelphia swept a home back-to-back versus the Hawks.

Friday's win, the 76ers' third straight, featured double-figure scoring by six players in a third consecutive game in which Philadelphia was able to empty its bench for most of the final period.

"It came at a perfect time for us," Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said afterward. ''None of (the starters) had to stretch minutes. Now they're good to go, which is great. The bench guys got great rhythm."

The 76ers' three-game streak (all at home) featured the largest cumulative margin of victory (plus-97 points) in franchise history according to Sixers.com.

Philadelphia's recent surge can partially be attributed to the play of Simmons, who averaged 12.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 5 assists in 22 minutes per game over the past three outings while shooting 78.2 percent from the floor. Simmons missed four straight games earlier in the month with an illness.

"Ben has been a tone-setter for us," Rivers said. "He's been absolutely amazing, I don't know if it's the best he's played all year, but it's close. He's driving our team right now."

Philadelphia won the first meeting with the Spurs this season, a 134-99 home victory on March 14.

--Field Level Media