76ers

Ben Simmons hitting a 3 is nice, but everything else he did in Sixers' win over Knicks even more impressive

Ben Simmons hitting a 3 is nice, but everything else he did in Sixers' win over Knicks even more impressive

Ben Simmons hit his first NBA three Wednesday night against the Knicks.

By the end of the game, it almost felt like a footnote to those who watched the entirety of the Sixers’ 109-104 win at the Wells Fargo Center Wednesday night (see observations). That’s because the Knicks stormed out of the halftime break with a 15-0 run and led by as many as 17 before Simmons willed the Sixers to the victory.

Sure, it was great to see Simmons hit the three.

But the defensive effort he gave and the way he ran the team in the third quarter showed what makes Simmons truly special.

I thought Ben's defensive intensity was as good as it's been,” Brett Brown said. “I think that him in his leadership, sort of controlling the game and giving him the freedom to make play calls after free throws, as an example, and him doing a great job of being smart of what that looked like. I thought he was outstanding with his presence. I really thought he helped change the whole landscape, especially in the second half.

The stat line looks good: 18 points (7 of 9 from the field, 3 of 4 from the line, 1 of 1 from three), 13 assists, seven rebounds, a block and a steal.

But that doesn’t even come close to telling the story. 

The Sixers were up two at the half on the Knicks, who were shooting the lights out. Then New York came out of the break guns blazing, led by guards Frank Ntilikina and Dennis Smith Jr. Furkan Korkmaz, starting for Josh Richardson, struggled mightily on the defensive end. Brown then turned to Shake Milton, who didn’t fare much better.

At that point, Brown stopped messing around and put Simmons on Ntilikina. Simmons not only stopped the bleeding defensively, he pushed the basketball up the floor at every turn.

With his unique skill set, Simmons has Defensive Player of the Year potential. His explosiveness and guard skills at his size are what made him the No. 1 overall pick and an All-Star.

Yes, it was against the Knicks, but all of that was on full display.

“I wouldn't say like my role, it's just how I am as a player,” Simmons said when asked about jumpstarting his team in the third. “I hate losing, hearing our fans boo — I mean, that annoys me also, that fuels the fire. So, for me, I'm all about winning. However I gotta get it done, I'm gonna get it done.”

Oh, and by the way, Simmons hit a three.

Early in the first quarter, Korkmaz took a couple dribbles to his right and got the ball to Simmons in the corner on a bounce pass. Then Simmons rose up with no hesitation and … swish. He then trotted down the other end of the court as if he’d made 100 threes before it.

It only took 172 games, but Simmons did it. When asked about his reaction, Simmons downplayed it in typical Simmons’ fashion.

“You saw my reaction,” Simmons deadpanned.

When pressed further, Simmons did admit that he was glad to see the fruits of his labor this summer pay off.

“I mean, it feels good. Yeah, you put work into something and it pays off.”

The Sixers have been unbelievably patient with Simmons’ unwillingness to shoot. So much so that there’s been criticism of Brown for not “forcing” Simmons to shoot more.

To hear Simmons tell it, it sure sounds like he’s grateful for his coach not going that route.

“I think it's getting better with time and different experiences,” Simmons said. “I think I'm just growing as a player and that's what happens when you give somebody a little bit more leeway and trust in them a little bit more.”

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Furkan Korkmaz sparks sudden blaze, then leaps over logic

Furkan Korkmaz sparks sudden blaze, then leaps over logic

There came a point Friday night during Furkan Korkmaz’s career-best 24-point performance when everyone at Wells Fargo Center seemed to collectively shrug and say, “Sure. Why not?”

Korkmaz had already flashed his trademark skill, hitting four three-pointers in under two minutes during a sudden blaze at the end of the third quarter.

With a little less than seven minutes to go in the Sixers’ 100-89 win, he stared down Bulls center Cristiano Felicio. The 22-year-old then crossed Felicio over, blew past him, dunked and let out an exultant scream. 

“At that time of the game, I was really feeling it,” Korkmaz said. “I got that confidence. When I saw the open lane, I just took off. I was also not expecting that, but I just dunked it. That was a good moment.”

Korkmaz wasn’t done, though. He missed a well-earned heat check on the Sixers’ next possession, but dropped in a floater shortly after. And, just to confirm that it was indeed his night, he took a charge on Bulls star Zach LaVine. 

Which play did he enjoy more?

“It’s a tough question, but I think I would say the dunk,” Korkmaz said honestly.

This isn’t the first time Korkmaz has changed a game this season with his shotmaking. He had nine key fourth-quarter points Wednesday vs. Brooklyn, blew up the Bucks’ zone in the third quarter on Christmas and made the game-winning three on Nov. 2 in Portland.

The Sixers declined Korkmaz’s third-year option last year, then let him sit on the free-agent market until July 25. Though they billed him as a young, promising player, their actions suggested Korkmaz was not a prominent part of their plans. He appeared to be on the fringe of the rotation.

Brett Brown hasn’t passed up many chances to laud Korkmaz, and he had a great opportunity Friday.

It’s really quite a — to say it's incredible would be too dramatic — but it's a heck of a story, isn't it? Just where he was and where he is. For us to see him — and he's young, can't forget his birth certificate — for us to see him come in and do JJ [Redick]-like stuff and have that type of a bomber, that was different. … We ran probably, I don't know, five plays in a row going to him. 

“I had flashbacks of JJ. We jumped into JJ's package and he changed the game. He gave us a spark and whether it was a three ball — I don't remember JJ dunking like that … but the long shot and just like bam, bam, bam — quick points, buckets — fueled our defense.

While Korkmaz deserves credit for translating his hypothetical value as a shooter into real contributions this year — he’s made 71 threes, tied with Tobias Harris for most on the team, and converted 39 percent — he will probably not maintain Friday's euphoric high. 

He’s devoted time and energy to improving his defense, but the question of whether he’ll be able to hold his own in the playoffs remains open and valid. If he’s not sinking shots, his impact tends to not be positive. Any moves the Sixers make before the Feb. 6 trade deadline could shift his role, too.

But, for the time being, he is playing with an apparently limitless self-belief.

“As a player you just need to get that confidence,” he said. “When you start to feel good on the court and also your teammates see that, your coaching staff sees that — I think today everybody saw that I was feeling it — and I knew that I had to shoot those looks. I just take the open shots, that’s all I do.”

Brown is clearly relishing in Korkmaz’s success.

“He's quality people,” Brown said. “He's a genuine person and you're proud of that, too. Good things happen to good people ... He's put in the time and to his credit, he came in and changed the landscape of an NBA game. And he did it quite emphatically. It wasn't like it was swept under the carpet. He did it where ESPN and all of us and his teammates, probably more importantly, felt his success.”

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Furkan Korkmaz, Al Horford building a budding bromance

Furkan Korkmaz, Al Horford building a budding bromance

Sometimes, new teammates just seem to click. For one reason or another, guys gravitate towards one another.

For the Sixers, a budding bromance seems to be brewing between veteran Al Horford and youngster Furkan Korkmaz.

After Korkmaz had a monster game, scoring a career-high 24 points in the Sixers’ win over the Bulls Friday, Horford couldn’t help but gush over the Turkish wing.

He’s just great,” Horford said to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters postgame. “He continues to get better, his confidence continues to grow. He’s a guy that’s a big piece for us. He’s figuring it out and as the season goes on, you can just see the improvement.

Then he took to Twitter to show even more love.

To which Korkmaz endearingly responded.

The play in the picture was this dunk off a drive which got Korkmaz to 22 points.

This isn’t the first time the pair have shown a kinship. After Korkmaz hit a few big shots on Christmas day against the Bucks, Horford was effusive in his praise. And when Korkmaz hit the game-winner in Portland, he credited the 33-year-old Horford.

I knew that Al (Horford) was going to set a good pick and try to get me open to make the shot. … I was wide open. I just let it fly, and I made it. That was also a huge comeback from double digits (down). Horford, I think, made a lot of shots.

While their bromance is alive and well, Ben Simmons also took to Twitter to celebrate his teammate’s big night.

Tobias Harris also retweeted that post.

Safe to say, the Sixers are pretty Furkan happy right now.

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