The San Antonio Spurs can thank Jakob Poeltl for the momentum they will carry into Philadelphia for a Saturday game against the 76ers, who will be looking to win for the first time after an uneven start to the season.
Poeltl’s performance from the free-throw line in the final five minutes of a 137-134 win at Indiana on Friday allowed San Antonio to post its first win of the season and hold off a torrid Pacers comeback. Indiana continually fouled Poeltl, forcing the 51.8 percent career free-throw shooter into making them to stem the rally.
He sank 10 of 14 in the final five minutes, and the Spurs had just enough to hold on.
“Jakob’s courage was really impressive,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the win. “We weren’t gonna take him out of the game no matter what because he needs those moments to live through it. And he did it. If he doesn’t make those free throws, we don’t win.”
Josh Richardson scored 27 points and Tre Jones canned a pair of crucial free throws in the final seconds for the Spurs, who prevailed in the opener of a four-game road trip. San Antonio’s Devin Vassell scored career-high 23 points, Keldon Johnson also had 23, and Poeltl finished with 21 points and a game-high eight rebounds.
San Antonio had 102 points by the end of the third quarter, matching its total output in its season-opening loss against the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.
“Big shoutout to Jakob for making some of those free throws,” Vassell said. “We’re a young team, so we’re growing, we’re learning on the fly. It’s definitely good learning with a win.”
The Sixers have dropped two straight to start the season, most recently taking a 90-88 home loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday. Philadelphia began the campaign with 126-117 road defeat against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday.
“We lost two games — no moral victories,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said after the Thursday game. “(We) played two great teams. (We) knew from the day they released the schedule they were coming, and we have to expect to win these games, even while we’re still a work in progress.
“(We) can’t get them back now. You have to move on and get to the next game.”
One of the highlights for the 76ers over the first two games has been the production of James Harden, who is finally recovered from a hamstring injury that hampered him last season. He led the team’s scoring in both contests, racking up 31 points on Thursday after pouring in 35 in the opener.
Harden scored 16 points in the fourth quarter against Milwaukee and spurred a 17-5 run that tied the game at 80. After the Bucks hit a 3-pointer to go up 89-88 with 23.8 seconds to play, Harden missed a short jumper with four seconds left.
“We were just active,” Harden said of the fourth-quarter comeback. “Our defensive intensity picked up, we got stops and that gave us opportunities in transition.”
Joel Embiid added 15 points and 12 rebounds for Philadelphia in the loss. Tyrese Maxey also scored 15 points, and Tobias Harris pulled down 10 rebounds.
–Field Level Media