Well, so much for a carryover effect and momentum from an inspiring victory. There was nothing inspiring last night about the 76ers' first-half performance, unless you were a San Antonio Spurs fan.
The Sixers fell behind 22 points just before intermission and spent the rest of the night paddling upstream, while the Spurs played just well enough in the second half to keep them at arm's length, leaving the Wachovia Center with a 99-85 victory before a crowd of 14,883.
The Sixers, looking for their first back-to-back wins since Dec. 22 and 23 against Boston and New York, instead lost for the eighth time in their last 10 games and fell to 11-30 this season.
This certainly wasn't the way to be coming off Friday's overtime win over the Miami Heat, the 2006 NBA champions. The Spurs, the 2005 NBA champions, held the Sixers to 2-of-12 shooting at the outset, led by 30-15 after one quarter and by 61-39 with 39 seconds remaining until halftime.
"The game started with not one of our best [starts]," Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said. "That put us in such a hole. To try to climb out of it against a team like the Spurs is a big challenge. Our defense was not as solid, but it got better in the second half."
"It seemed like we couldn't make any shots," Sixers center Steven Hunter said of the first half. "I thought we had some good looks. You've got to give credit to the Spurs, too. They played pretty good defense and they also had a big part in us missing shots."
Down by 61-41 at halftime, the Sixers whittled the deficit down to 13 by the end of the third period and drew to within five, 83-78, on Andre Miller's pull-up jumper from the free-throw line with 6 minutes, 14 seconds remaining.
The Spurs, who missed nine straight shots at one stage of the final quarter, then held the Sixers without a field goal for more than five minutes after Miller's basket and outscored them by 14-3 to open up some breathing room.
Michael Finley and Robert Horry knocked down San Antonio's 10th and 11th three-point baskets of the night. Finley later hit two free throws and Jacque Vaughn nailed a jumper to close the run and give the Spurs a 97-81 lead with 1:24 left.
The Sixers had quite a few good news/bad news moments come out of the game.
After their poor first half, they limited the Spurs to 37.5 percent shooting in the second half. But they gave up 11 three-point baskets in 23 attempts, with Brent Barry knocking down 5 in 8 attempts to lead all scorers with 23 points.
The Sixers' double-center tandem of Hunter and Samuel Dalembert dominated the boards, with Hunter grabbing a career-high 15 rebounds and Dalembert adding 12. But the two players shot a combined 9 of 30 from the field, with Dalembert, the NBA's fourth-leading shooter (58.5 percent) going 4 of 16.
Tim Duncan had 17 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocked shots for the Spurs, but the Sixers' defense, keyed by Hunter, limited him to one field goal in the second half.
"I thought it was a pretty good matchup today," Hunter said. "I thought me and Sam played well together. We missed a couple of chip shots down low. But I thought overall we had a pretty good game."
Cheeks managed to find some positives in the play of his two big men.
"I think those two guys in the middle have done a nice job," he said. "They clog up the middle and give us a nice rebounding edge. Those two guys have played well together. They give us a nice defensive presence. It gives guys something to think about when they're driving down the lane."
Hunter and Dalembert helped give the Sixers a 46-45 edge on the boards, two nights after they were dominated, 55-36, by Miami.
Despite their 2-of-12 start, the Sixers were within 12-8 early before Barry and Bruce Bowen sank three-pointers to spark an 18-7 run over the final 4:59.
In all, Barry scored 10 points over that stretch, including a three-point basket on San Antonio's last possession that gave the visitors a 30-15 lead. And it progressively got worse during the second quarter.
Manu Ginobili's runner in the lane increased the margin to 19, and a three-pointer by Finley bumped it up to 47-26 with 6:28 remaining until halftime. Duncan scored the Spurs' final six points, on two layups and a pair of free throws, to grow the lead to 22.