But then the sloppy play took hold. Easy missed shots. Turnovers. Duncan blocked Jrue Holiday's layup.
"We recognized there was time left in the game," Duncan said. "We had to tidy up on the defensive end and get some stops. We did just that."
Just like that, game over.
"We didn't finish them off," Thaddeus Young said. "We've just got to figure out a way to get past those kinds of teams. We're trying to make runs, we're trying to get wins, we're trying to get wins."
Led by Duncan, the Spurs took control of this one early and raced to a 17-point lead in the second quarter.
At last in the third, the Sixers came ready to play, showing the sharp shooting touch that abandoned them in the first half. Hawes, who scored 16, buried a 3 as part of an 8-0 run that sliced the gap down to four. Young, however, missed two free throws that would have inched the Sixers closer.
As they do, the Spurs took advantage of the missed opportunities from the line. Parker pushed them back with a jumper and Leonard's thunderous dunk quickly made it 61-49.
They just couldn't put away the Sixers that easily. Maybe the outcome would have been different with Bynum. They'll need him in their playoff push.
"We're very concerned," coach Doug Collins said.
Bynum, their big offseason acquisition, again expressed optimism he'd finally be ready to play around next month's All-Star game. Bynum has sat out the season because of bone bruises on both his knees. He practiced jump shots with the Sixers at the morning's shootaround and insisted he was pain free.
Bynum, a free agent at the end of the year, has no intention of rushing back. There's still plenty he has to work on before he's cleared.
"It's going to be defensive slides, cutting, running full speed and stopping, backpedaling, jumping," he said. "Explosive stuff."
Bynum wasn't the only reason the Sixers' locker room was buzzing before the game. Former great Charles Barkley — his retired No. 34 hangs in the rafters — called the game for TNT and was a pregame visitor. Barkley received a huge standing ovation when the Sixers aired a video tribute to him.
NOTES: The Spurs won for the 14th time in 17 games. ... The Spurs had averaged 98.0 points in their previous 10 road games. ... The Spurs were 19 of 26 from the free throw line; the 76ers 7 of 11.