PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Spurs didn’t have Tim Duncan or Tony Parker, and that gave Kawhi Leonard a chance to shine.
Leonard scored 26 points and had a crucial three-point play in the final minute to help the San Antonio Spurs defeat the winless 76ers 109-103, extending Philadelphia’s franchise-worst losing streak at the start of the season to 0-17.
“I try to assert myself every night but tonight there were a lot of shots to shoot,” Leonard said.
The Spurs (13-4) played without stars Duncan (rest) and Parker (shoulder). Even without the duo’s more than 31 points per game, San Antonio had little trouble dispatching Philadelphia. Aron Baynes scored 15 points and Manu Ginobili and Cory Joseph each added 14 for San Antonio, which won its eighth straight. Leonard also had 10 rebounds while tying a career high in points.
Leonard scored 20-plus points for the fourth time this season after doing it three times all of last season.
“We’re trying to loosen up a bit and give him more of a green light,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said.
Michael Carter-Williams had 24 points and 11 rebounds, and Alexey Shved added 19 points for Philadelphia.
The 76ers also were short-handed, as leading scorer Tony Wroten (knee) missed his second straight game and rookie first-round pick Nerlens Noel (hip) sat after getting injured in Sunday’s practice.
Philadelphia coach Brett Brown was surprised Noel, who is day-to-day, pulled himself out after warming up.
“It kind of surprised me he didn’t play,” Brown said. “I think the lesson is everybody in the NBA is injured.”
Philadelphia became just the fourth team in league history to open a season with 17 losses, joining the 1998-99 Clippers (0-17), 1988-89 Heat (0-17) and the 2009-10 Nets (0-18). The 76ers can tie the Nets for the worst start in NBA history on Wednesday at Minnesota with a potential chance to break the record at home on Friday against Oklahoma City.
Philadelphia made a late run at the Spurs, pulling within 101-96 with 1 minute, 33 seconds remaining on Henry Sims’ layup. But Leonard put the game away by converting a three-point play to make it 104-96 with 42.7 left.
“He has the potential to do that often,” Ginobili said of Leonard. “Maybe on a different team he’d be putting up higher numbers. We play in a system and we take what the game gives us.”
The 76ers were competitive in their last three losses, losing by an average of 8.3 points per game to Portland, Brooklyn and Dallas, during this four-game homestand. They fell behind big early before battling back late.
The Spurs shot 49 percent (24-for-49) from the field and outrebounded Philadelphia 31-17 in the first half while taking a 61-46 lead.
“The first half was not played with much energy,” Brown said. “I’ve seen it with our guys. We play the Spurs, we’re sort of star struck for a second. We had no juice, no energy.”
Spurs: Tiago Splitter (calf) missed his 16th game… . San Antonio improved to 7-0 this season against the Eastern Conference.
76ers: One of the loudest cheers of the evening came when Eagles tight end Zach Ertz, who was sitting courtside, was introduced to the crowd. … First-round pick Dario Saric, who is playing in Turkey, was named Euroleague MVP for November after averaging 15.5 points and 7.8 rebounds.
STICKING WITH IT
Popovich praised the 76ers and Brown, who was an assistant in San Antonio for seven seasons, for their effort.
“It’s hard to come out night after night and not get wins,” he said. “They came after us with everything. It’s amazing to me and a testament to their character and the stick-to-itiveness of the coaching staff. It’s really impressive.”
The Spurs have scored at least 100 points in each of the last four games after hitting the century mark just four times in their first 13 games. They improved to 8-0 when reaching 100.
Carter-Williams added 11 rebounds and seven assists to his point total, giving him an average of 21 points, 10.5 rebounds and 11.5 assists in his last two games.
The 76ers are at Minnesota on Wednesday.
The Spurs play the Nets in Brooklyn on Wednesday.
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