76ers

Sixers 120, Pacers 96: Sixers kick off brutal stretch with arguably best win of season

Sixers 120, Pacers 96: Sixers kick off brutal stretch with arguably best win of season

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The Sixers kicked off a tough upcoming stretch with arguably their most impressive win of the season.

They took down the Pacers, 120-96, Thursday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Indiana has been one of the hottest teams in the league, winning nine of their last 11. The Sixers were able to capture a win in the first game of a brutal 12-game stretch.

Here are observations from the win.

• The Sixers have moved the ball extremely well over their last two games. After collecting 40 assists on 55 made field goals on their way to waxing the Timberwolves Tuesday, they recorded 38 assists on 46 field goals against the Pacers, a team that came in with the third-best defensive rating in the NBA. The Sixers have the look of a team that's starting to click offensively.

They also held Indiana, the second-best shooting team in the NBA at 48.3 percent, to just 40 percent.

• Brett Brown has said on more than one occasion he’d like Jimmy Butler to be more assertive. On Thursday, Butler certainly was. He abused Bojan Bogdanovich — who’s out there for his offense — every chance he got.

What stood out in the first half was Butler’s movement without the basketball. On more than one occasion he was able to make a sharp cut to the basket for an easy bucket.

Butler was his usual active self on the defensive end. What’s most impressive is his recovery speed when he tries to cheat for a steal or deny his man the ball. It’s part of what makes him elite on that end of the floor. 

He finished with 27 points on 10 of 17 from the field. He also had eight assists with zero turnovers. You could make the case this was his best game as a Sixer.

• Joel Embiid, who was a game-time decision with a back issue, was clearly in discomfort. He was noticeably grimacing on the floor and trying to stretch on the sideline. 

With that said, the All-Star center gutted it out on both ends of the floor. He recored his league-leading 38th double-double with 22 points and 13 rebounds. He came up just two assists shy of a triple-double and had three blocks. 

• Simmons has been phenomenal lately, but we didn’t see the same aggressive player he’s been since the calendar turned to 2019. Simmons has done an excellent job recently of being aggressive and looking for his shot early.

In this one he took just two shots in the first half. He seemed to fall back into the trend of getting into the paint without a plan which generally has led to turnovers. He committed five in the first half. Simmons is so much better when he goes to the rim looking to score first and pass second. His indecisiveness has hurt him. He did commit just one turnover in the second half and still finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.

To Simmons’ credit, he didn’t let his early offensive struggles affect him on the other end. He was charged with guarding the dangerous Victor Oladipo and held the All-Star guard to just 15 points.

• Jonah Bolden has been a revelation off the Sixers’ bench. Sure, he only played 12 minutes tonight, but his impact on the defensive end has been huge. His length, athleticism, quick feet and ability to protect the rim have been a big addition off the bench. Bryan Colangelo’s tenure as Sixers GM didn’t go well, but he may have hit on this second-round pick.

• It’s amazing what Bolden’s emergence and Wilson Chandler’s reemergence (10 points) has done to improve the team’s bench and somewhat solidify the team’s rotation. Using Bolden as the backup five allows Mike Muscala (11 points) to play more four and Chandler to play more three. Both players seem more comfortable at those positions.

This team likely isn’t a finished product as we approach the Feb. 7 deadline, but it appears Brett Brown has finally found a rotation he feels comfortable with.

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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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