PHILADELPHIA — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had an immediate answer when asked about his decision to leave leading scorer DeMar DeRozan on the bench for the final play of San Antonio’s 122-120 loss to the 76ers on Wednesday.
“We didn’t want to go to overtime,” Popovich said.
Instead, San Antonio didn’t get a shot off. Rudy Gay‘s attempted inbounds pass to Marco Belinelli was tipped by Ben Simmons, and the ball bounced harmlessly away as the final 1.1 seconds ticked off the clock to give Philadelphia the win.
“Oh, yeah. I’m pretty sure that’s what we were doing. Going for the win,” DeRozan said. “We just couldn’t get an attempt off.”
DeRozan is averaging a team-high 21.4 points per game, but he has never been a consistent threat from 3-point range — and this season, he hasn’t been a threat from deep at all. A career 28.4 percent shooter from behind the arc, he is 7-for-40 (17.5 percent) from deep this season, hasn’t shot a 3 in 11 games and hasn’t made one since Dec. 26 in a home win over the Denver Nuggets.
On that final possession in Philadelphia, Popovich had Gay inbounding the ball, LaMarcus Aldridge as a big man on the floor to set a screen and three shooters on the court: Bryn Forbes (41.8 percent on the season from 3-point range), Patty Mills (39.8) and Belinelli (38.3). The trio of shooters combined to go 11-for-20 on 3s in the game.
Popovich put the ball in DeRozan’s hands on San Antonio’s previous offensive possession, with the Spurs trailing by one with 22 seconds left. But after DeRozan held the ball at the top of the key for several seconds, he drove down the right side of the lane and went up for a shot against Sixers forward Wilson Chandler.
Chandler blocked DeRozan’s shot, and Philadelphia managed to run off most of the remaining time before Corey Brewer was fouled. Brewer made one of two free throws, setting up the final play.
The loss was San Antonio’s second straight and fourth in six games, but it saw DeRozan, who finished with a team-high 26 points on 12-for-19 shooting, snap a recent shooting slump. Wednesday’s loss was the first time DeRozan scored more than 20 points since the Spurs beat the Pistons in Detroit on Jan. 7. Since then, he had scored in single figures twice and shot a combined 35-for-100 from the floor.
“Would’ve been better to have a win, and I played bad,” DeRozan said. “But it’s all about just trying to be consistent from here on out, continuing to play well.”