Everyone loves a good comeback story and the Sixers needed one Saturday night.
They came into Portland as the only undefeated team in the NBA.
But that unblemished mark was very much in peril. The Blazers were on fire from the jump. They shot the lights out and built up a 21-point lead. At a certain point you got the sense it just wasn’t the Sixers’ night — and that would’ve been fine. They weren't going 82-0 and were likely due for clunker.
Instead of packing it in, the Sixers clawed their way back into the game, setting up Furkan Korkmaz to play hero in a 129-128 win (see observations).
The same Furkan Korkmaz that played his way out of Brett Brown’s rotation last season, didn’t look he’d be back this summer and lost minutes to Shake Milton earlier this week.
Thanks to his huge three with 0.4 seconds left, the Sixers are 5-0.
You can’t make this stuff up.
"Even still, I don't know how to feel, how to act,” Korkmaz said to reporters after the game. “It was the biggest shot in my career. But 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. And then from a huge comeback, to make the buzzer beater and get the W, it's incredible. It's like a dream."
It was an improbable comeback with an improbable hero completing it.
Korkmaz wasn’t the only player to step up. Horford, filling in for a suspended Joel Embiid, was excellent, posting a team-high 25 points with seven assists, five rebounds and two blocks. The entire bench was outstanding — Korkmaz, James Ennis, Mike Scott, Kyle O’Quinn and even Raul Neto, who helped spark the comeback in the third.
Let’s also not forget about Ben Simmons.
With the Sixers trailing 125-124, Simmons stepped to the free throw line with the chance to give his team their first lead of the game with 10.1 second left. Simmons came into the game shooting 44.4 percent from the line.
But when the Sixers desperately needed it …
Though it still took Korkmaz’s heroics after Damian Lillard found Anfernee Simons for a corner three with 2.6 seconds left, those free throws were big.
"There were a series of things that happened,” Brown said. “Ben stepping up and making two free throws was huge. And then they come back and they sort of isolate Damian (Lillard). … we tried to get the ball out of his hands. They did a great job of finding the corner.
“And then we get to your question, two plays later, three plays later, and Furkan hit the shot. He's one of two or three options. Ben made, I think, the correct decision, Furkan made the shot. Just a tremendous road win. This is a difficult place to win under any circumstances and to come back from 21 points down in the second half is a real tribute to our guys."
So not only does Simmons get credit for the foul shots, but also for making the right decision to get the ball to a wide-open Korkmaz.
"I trust in everybody on the floor,” Simmons said. “I know the plays, I know what's going to be open. As soon as I saw Furk open — I think he was shocked that he was open — but I trusted Furk to make that shot. He's one of my teammates, he works hard every day, he's a great competitor, great player. I trust in all my teammates to make shots, when it comes down to it. I'm not surprised, I'm just happy he had the opportunity."
The story is Korkmaz.
A 2016 first-round pick by then-GM Bryan Colangelo, Korkmaz’s future with the Sixers was in serious doubt this summer. The team declined his option at the beginning of last season after the Turkish wing said he was unhappy with his role. After receiving steady minutes for a stretch, Korkmaz found himself out of the regular rotation by mid-January. Billed as a shooter, Korkmaz shot just 32.6 percent from three last season.
As the Sixers made a flurry of offseason moves, Korkmaz lingered on the market. There were reports that he was headed back to his native Turkey to play professionally.
Then when the team failed to sign veteran sharpshooter Kyle Korver, GM Elton Brand circled back to Korkmaz.
Often a punching bag, Korkmaz made plenty of people eat crow Saturday night — including the scribe that wrote this story.
To start the season, Brown’s support of Korkmaz hasn’t wavered. To Korkmaz’s credit, he seems like he’s doing everything that’s asked of him. It was a feel-good moment for the 22-year-old — who was so happy postgame he could barely find the words to speak — his head coach and his teammates that believed in him.
"I know everybody likes me on the team,” Korkmaz said. “They support me every time. It doesn't matter if I'm good or bad — everybody has some ups and downs. But, end of the day, I know everybody likes me here and I know everybody likes me in the organization. That's given me the confidence to be on the floor, to show myself. I really appreciate them for their performance tonight, because that was a huge comeback, too."
It appears Korkmaz is trying to write a comeback story of his own.
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