PHILADELPHIA, PA – Philadelphia coach Brett Brown met Gregg Popovich at midcourt, gave him a handshake, hug and pat on the back.
Brown knows all about long losing streaks, and Popovich helped him get through them. Now, it’s Brown’s turn to help.
Tobias Harris scored 26 points, Joel Embiid had 21 points and 14 rebounds, and the Philadelphia 76ers beat San Antonio 115-104 on Friday night to hand the Spurs their eighth straight defeat.
The skid is the Spurs’ worst under longtime coach Popovich.
“Figured it was something like that,” Popovich said.
A former Spurs assistant under Popovich, Brown endured an NBA-record 28-game losing streak during Philadelphia’s rebuilding project early in his tenure.
Usually loquacious, Brown didn’t have much to say about sending his mentor to the longest skid of his career.
“I love him. He knows that,” Brown said. “He coaches hard, he moves on.”
Ben Simmons had a triple-double with 10 points, 13 assists and 10 rebounds for the 76ers, who improved to 6-0 at home.
DeMar DeRozan had 29 points and Rudy Gay scored 22 for the Spurs.
“I thought the effort was good, just a bad start again,” Popovich said. “We’re just trying to not make as many mistakes, mostly at the defensive end because it always puts us in a bad way. We’re working at it.”
DeRozan said Popovich has remained positive despite the losing streak.
“He’s extremely optimistic, doesn’t panic,” DeRozan said. “He keeps our spirits up high, keeps our confidence up high. Got to keep our heads up.”
San Antonio last dropped eight in a row in November 1996 under coach Bob Hill. Popovich was the team’s general manager at the time. He fired Hill later that season and began his long run of success.
In his 24th season, Popovich has won five NBA titles and gone to the playoffs in 22 straight seasons while compiling a winning record in each of those 22 campaigns. He has spent just 74 days with a losing record over the last 22 seasons.
Prior to the recent slump, Popovich hadn’t lost seven consecutive games since Feb. 23 to March 5, 1997.
“He felt sorry for me in my early years,” Brown said. “He’s amazing. His competitiveness is incredibly admirable. Nothing I respect more that Pop has achieved than longevity.”
Popovich said the sting of losing was slightly lessened due to the opponent.
"If you lose to (Brown), for some strange reason it doesn’t hurt quite as bad," he said. "You’re a little bit happy for him — just a little."
San Antonio trailed most of the way but got within one late in the third quarter before the 76ers pulled away in the fourth.
It was 101-95 with just under six minutes left when Popovich elected to intentionally foul Simmons for the second straight trip down court. A 58% free throw shooter, Simmons missed both attempts the first time but drained both shots on his subsequent trip to the line to put Philadelphia ahead 103-95 with 5:34 remaining.
Furkan Korkmaz hit a 3-pointer from the corner on Philadelphia’s next possession and then Harris made a layup to put the 76ers comfortably ahead, 108-97, with 4:24 left.
The pressure has intensified on Brown after the team’s early playoff exits the last two seasons and a so-so start to 2019-20. Brown acknowledged as much before the game, saying his job “has been in question since the day I took it.”
However, Popovich doesn’t believe Brown should be receiving scrutiny. Brown spent 11 seasons with the Spurs.
“Fans don’t know (anything),” Popovich said. “He’s one hell of a guy and the most positive guy I’ve ever known. He’s going to work his (butt) off. They are lucky to have him.”
Spurs: Derrick White (left foot) missed his second consecutive game.
76ers: Josh Richardson (right hip flexor) didn’t play. … Philadelphia improved to 10-5. … Outrebounded the Spurs 51-32. ... Jimmy Butler, who starred for the 76ers after an in-season trade last year, returns with Miami to face Philadelphia on Saturday night.
Spurs: At the New York Knicks on Saturday night.
76ers: Host the Miami Heat on Saturday night.