SAN ANTONIO — While the San Antonio Spurs search for their identity as a team, Rudy Gay is showing that he has returned to form.
Gay had 21 points and LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan each added 20 as San Antonio defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 123-96 on Monday night.
“I think we’re starting to figure out each other more than anything,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Who’s got the mismatches out there. Usually your best players look for those mismatches and our guys are starting to figure that out. Defensively, we’ve got a little bit more rhyme and reason to what we’re doing and it’s shown in this homestand. I’m pleased with the progress (but) we still have a long way to go.”
Aldridge added 10 rebounds and DeRozan had seven assists for the Spurs, who closed a six-game home stand at 5-1.
San Antonio bounced back after squandering a 21-point lead in a loss to Chicago on Saturday night. It was the fifth straight game the Spurs held an opponent under 100 points.
J.J. Redick and Ben Simmons each had 16 points to lead the 76ers on the second night of a back-to-back. Joel Embiid was limited to 13 points on 6-for-17 shooting and finished with 11 rebounds. Jimmy Butler had six points on 3-for-13 shooting.
Philadelphia shot 41 percent from the field and 30 percent on 3-pointers in losing for the third time in four outings.
“Defensively, they put us in tough situations to execute our offense,” Embiid said. “I had a pretty bad shooting night, Jimmy did (too). They made us uncomfortable.”
When the Spurs’ lead over the 76ers swelled to 29 points, Popovich didn’t need to remind his team about the Bulls’ rally.
“There was nothing to say, we were engaged,” Gay said. “We were really engaged. I think it was pretty clear that we messed up last game, we let that one go. Two games in a row? Can’t happen. Can’t happen.”
Gay was key to the Spurs maintaining the lead. The 13-year veteran took advantage of mismatches when he wasn’t outworking Butler.
Gay had 11 points in the third as he continued his solid play in his comeback from a ruptured left Achilles tendon two years ago. The 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 14 points this season, but has averaged 18.8 points in his last seven games.
“He’s got a little spunk in his step,” Popovich said. “He likes the group. He’s worked hard to understand defensively and rebounding what we want and, of course, he can score.”
Gay has scored 20-plus points five times through 27 games. He accomplished that feat in 57 games last season.
Philadelphia raced to a nine-point lead in the opening quarter behind Redick’s outside shooting and Embiid’s inside dominance. The duo combined to shoot 8 for 13 and scored nine points apiece in the first quarter, including a 3-pointer by Redick and a dunk by Embiid.
The Spurs rallied by limiting the 76ers to eight field goals and 17 points in the second quarter, and by forcing five turnovers.
“You can talk about Xs and Os, you can talk about a bunch of stuff but to me, our spirit was down,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “We are poor in back- to-backs. That is a fact and we have to find a way to do better.”
76ers: Brown and assistant Monty Williams worked for the Spurs prior to joining Philadelphia. Brown spent 11 seasons as an assistant under Popovich from 2002-2013. Williams played for the Spurs from 1996-98 and returned to serve as vice president of basketball operations from 2016-18. … Embiid led the team in scoring in four straight games prior to Monday, averaging 30.3 points over that stretch.
Spurs: The Spurs held the 76ers to 17 points in the second quarter, which was two points shy of their season low of 15 for the period at Phoenix on Oct. 31. … Davis Bertans had 16 points, the most in four games since a two-game absence following the birth of his first child. … San Antonio’s bench outscored Philadelphia’s 56-35.
Popovich spoke of his admiration for Butler, who he is expected to coach on the U.S. Men’s Basketball Team in the 2020 Olympics.
“The one thing that stands out to me is he’s a competitor,” Popovich said. “I love competitors, and he’s that in spades. And he’s obviously talented.”
Butler was humbled by Popovich’s assessment.
“All he wants to ever do is win, but a great guy,” Butler said. “He knows the human aspect of the game as well. For him to say that about me, it means a lot. It means I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Brown spent time with former Spurs Tim Duncan and Bruce Bowen, who he coached in San Antonio, prior to Monday’s game.
“We had a laugh talking about old times,” Brown said. “It touched on basketball, but it was way more just catching up with them and seeing how they’re doing personally.”
76ers: Host New York on Wednesday night.
Spurs: At Orlando on Wednesday night.