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For the last 10 years, in his role as the managing director of USA Basketball, Jerry Colangelo has watched as his Hall of Fame coach led his team full of All-Stars into battle against mostly overwhelmed and outgunned competition en route to win after win after win. On Monday night, hours after returning to the NBA as the new lead basketball decision-maker for the Philadelphia 76ers, Colangelo got a taste of how the other half lives.
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From a courtside seat at Wells Fargo Center, Colangelo watched as a San Antonio Spurs club led by Gregg Popovich — who agreed earlier this year to become the next head coach of the U.S. men's national basketball team — and playing without two future Hall of Famers and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year fundamentally dismantled his newfound team. San Antonio beat the bejeezus out of Philadelphia on Monday night, scoring a 119-68 victory despite resting Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili, sitting Tony Parker down at halftime, and only playing starters LaMarcus Aldridge and Danny Green for four minutes and 15 seconds of the second half.
The 51-point margin makes this the biggest win in the Spurs' hallowed history, eclipsing a 49-point victory over the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies on Nov. 8, 1995, and pushing San Antonio to 18-4 on the season, the second-best 22-game start in franchise history. The 51-point margin is not, however, the most lopsided loss in Sixer lore; Philly actually logged two separate 56-point defeats during the 1992-93 campaign, which followed the 76ers' fateful trade of Charles Barkley to the Phoenix Suns.
It's not even the worst loss of 76ers coach Brett Brown's tenure. That came last season, in a 123-70 shellacking by the Dallas Mavericks. It does stand, however, as the worst home loss in Sixer history.
Even playing without the 39-year-old Duncan (a de facto DNP-OLD after playing three games in four nights), the 38-year-old Ginobili (ditto, though Popovich said he would've been available if needed) and burgeoning superstar Leonard ("who Pop says had a bad Philly cheesesteak"), San Antonio got just about whatever it wanted throughout Monday's contest. Parker, who finished with 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting, six assists and four rebounds in 16 1/2 minutes, controlled the game with his pace and dribble early. Aldridge feasted on the Sixers' young bigs, scoring a game-high 26 points — his high-water mark since joining the Spurs in free agency this summer — on 11-for-15 shooting to go with nine rebounds in 21 1/2 minutes.
The Spurs and 76ers played versions of basketball that bordered on qualifying as different sports, as exemplified by this dynamic second-quarter possession in which San Antonio could have had about four different good looks but created a perfect one from point-blank range by passing the ball around and right through Philadelphia's hapless defense:
The Sixers led 11-7 with 7:48 remaining in the first quarter. The Spurs then ripped off a 19-4 run, and it never got close after that. San Antonio led by double-digits for the final 37:20, by at least 20 for the final 32:55, and by at least 30 for the final 26:10. With the outcome so secure so early, an awful lot Spurs got a chance to spin, and they took full advantage:
Spurs who scored season highs at Philadelphia tonight: L. Aldridge (26), M. Bonner (9), R. Butler (7), J. Simmons (14), B. Marjanovic (18)
— Jordan Howenstine (@AirlessJordan) December 8, 2015
You're certainly familiar with Aldridge and BDL favorite Matt Bonner. Longtime NBA fans might recognize the name of journeyman swingman Rasual Butler, who caught on with the team out of training camp. It'd take a true diehard to be very familiar with the work of Jonathon Simmons, who starred for the Spurs' Summer League squad before earning a job in camp.
The name I'd like to focus on, though, is Boban Marjanovic, the 7-foot-3, 290-pound behemoth who joined the Spurs this summer as a 27-year-old rookie after spending nearly a decade playing professionally in Europe and winning Serbian League MVP honors in each of the last three seasons. On Saturday night, while on a D-League assignment with the Austin Spurs, Marjanovic scored 34 points with 13 rebounds, four assists (including one of the spectacular variety), two blocked shots and one destroyed rim. After being recalled to the big club on Sunday, Boban brought the buckets with him, hitting Philly for an impressive 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting with four rebounds, two steals and an assist in 17 minutes.
He proved just a bit too tall for 76ers guard Tony Wroten:
... a finish that led the gigantic Serbian to crack wise:
Boban: "They have better rims here."
— Jeff McDonald (@JMcDonald_SAEN) December 8, 2015
That wasn't the only joke Marjanovich managed to pull off Monday; in his final on-court act of the evening, he put one (or maybe two) over on No. 3 overall draft pick Jahlil Okafor, who returned after serving his two-game suspension for fighting in the streets of Boston and perhaps wishes he would've just stayed in a suit:
By game's end, Marjanovic — who had amassed all of 12 NBA points entering Monday night — had become something of an adopted hero for the disenfranchised Philly faithful, who began cheering for his exploits, and "exploded as if the 76ers had just won the NBA Finals" after his fakeout and jumper over Okafor, according to Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:
“I feel like home, even though we changed cities,” Marjanovic said.
Later, Marjanovic was talking about what he learned from his best night in the NBA so far when the language barrier proved too much.
“I don’t have words in English,” Marjanovic said.
Neither did Brown.
Popovich again took up for his longtime former assistant after the game, proclaiming Brown "a hell of a coach" fighting what is "not a fair battle for talent" with an undermanned roster. Brown himself didn't have much to say after watching his team shoot 34.7 percent from the field while allowing San Antonio to shoot a blistering 61.8 percent, the highest team field goal percentage of the season, in falling to 1-21 on the season. From Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
"I think it's the first time that I've been in front of you all, and I really don't have anything to say," Brown said after the setback.
"I think when you play as poorly as we did in front of our home crowd, that there are great lessons we can learn," he went on to say, "because that's embarrassing."
If nothing else, you'd suspect that Colangelo learned an awful lot from getting an up-close-and-personal glimpse of just what kind of rebuilding
process project he's signed up to lead. The players still wear red, white and blue, but the similarities end there.
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