It looked as if the Sixers 20-4 fourth quarter run was going to be one of those decisive streaks that knock the opposition to its knees.
Against most teams, the Sixers morale-busting stretch, during which they overcame a 16-point second-half deficit to take a seven-point lead with a little more than four minutes to go in the game, would be enough.
The San Antonio Spurs arent most teams.
After weathering a barrage from the Sixers for a majority of the final quarter, the Spurs turned the table on the 76ers with a 15-3 run to close out the game and roll to a 90-85 victory on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
In a way, it was almost as if the Spurs tried to see how far they could bend without breaking.
We didnt do a good job executing, coach Doug Collins said. I didnt have the heat lamp on them. I tried to keep them calm, thats for sure. I think we got tight and I think our guys tried too hard.
The fourth quarter was there for the Sixers to take.
Seemingly streaking away and putting together their first set of consecutive wins since Nov. 30, the Sixers put together an 11-2 run to start the final frame to forge a tie with 9:21 left. They ripped off another 9-2 run extend the lead to seven points.
In a nationally televised game with Hall-of-Famers Charles Barkley and Reggie Miller calling the action from courtside, the Sixers fourth quarter show appeared to be one of those season-defining moments. Instead, it turned out to be another opportunity lost.
After Nick Young scored with 5:40 left to give the Sixers a seven-point lead, Doug Collins group made just one more field goal, missed nine others and committed four turnovers.
We rushed some shots, said Jrue Holiday, who scored 15 points on 7-for-20 shooting and handed out eight assists. Obviously, we had the game in our hands. But coming down to it, they are a veteran team and they did what they had to do to win the game.
Sometimes experience trumps everything. For Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, having veterans Tony Parker and Tim Duncan resting on the bench while the Sixers made their run proved the ace in the hole. When the duo went back into the game with 7:26 remaining, it was almost as if the Sixers never had a chance.
Its a wonder, too. Duncan, a 16-year veteran, and Parker, in his 12th season, had more energy and executed better than the younger Sixers.
How could that be?
They made a big run. They made some shots, but we recognized there was a lot of time left in the game and we had to start tightening up on the defensive end and get some stops, the unflappable Duncan said. We did just that.
Duncan, as spry and productive as ever, dropped in a game-high 24 points and pulled down 17 rebounds, with 10 of those boards coming during the second half. Parker, equally as poised as Duncan, scored 20 points with a game-high eight assists.
The two old guys particularly Duncan showed the younger Sixers how to get it done. At age 36, much has been made about how Duncan showed up for the season in better shape. But according to Thad Young, the longest tenured Sixers player, Duncan never had to change anything.
I see Tim Duncan, Young said. Thats all I see. I see Tim Duncan. Hes playing at an amazing level and hes continuing to do it. The past six years I havent seen any change except that he might be averaging fewer points. Thats about it.
It was the veteran know-how and execution that proved to be the difference. Even with the Sixers making their big run, the Spurs understood that they had plenty of time to win the game.
We played hard enough to win the game, Collins said. But what you saw was a team that is very, very experienced. They played through Parker and Duncan and made the big plays to beat us.
So its back to the drawing board for the Sixers, who failed to win back-to-back games for the eighth time in a row. As a result, the Sixers fell to 17-24, which is nine games behind the first place Knicks in the Atlantic Division and three games behind the Celtics for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
There is plenty of basketball left, though, and the Sixers will try to avoid another losing streak on Tuesday night in Milwaukee.
It was disappointing, thats for sure, Collins said. It would have been a very big win for our team. At the end of the day, our turnovers and inability to execute was the difference in the game.
E-mail John Finger at email@example.com