76ers

Sixers' drastic transformation continues with series win over Heat

Sixers' drastic transformation continues with series win over Heat

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For years, the notion of winning four out of five games was a reach for the Sixers. Getting four wins could take weeks at a time, not just over one week. 

That was then, this is now. And how different now is. 

The Sixers eliminated the Heat with a 104-91 win in Game 5 Tuesday to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2012 (see observations). They had not won a best-of-seven series in five games or less since 1985. 

The team that started the season with a goal of making the playoffs and transformed into aspirations of 50 wins, home-court advantage and the third seed has proved to be a true contender in the East (see highlights)

Quite a dramatic turnaround from finishing 10-72 only two seasons ago. 

“I'm just thankful to be here because it goes back to three or four years ago when it all started for me here,” Joel Embiid said. “Two years ago, we won 10 games, so to be in this position, I'm just excited.”

The Sixers won 75 games in Brett Brown’s first four seasons as head coach. Reaching .500 would have been a significant accomplishment. The Sixers blew past that mark with 52 wins, including 16 straight to end the regular season. 

The organization envisioned this level of success years ago when it began thinking of its current “Phila Unite” playoff campaign. The Sixers had the pieces; it was a matter of everything coming together. From Ben Simmons’ standout rookie year after injury to Embiid’s dominant sophomore season to the compilation of a roster deep with veterans, this relatively newly-constructed squad clicked … quickly. 

“I was hired in 2013 and I sat with Josh Harris and David Blitzer and a few of the other owners, and we talked about the vision, what we hoped to build,” Brown reflected. “Through rough times, through adversity, we didn’t blink. We stayed strong in what we were trying to do. 

“We’ve got more to do. We’ve got more to give. We’re excited for sure and there was a sense of just gratitude and I’m proud of all of us for just staying together — owners, team, direction that we’re heading — we didn’t blink. We didn’t pivot out of what we said we were going to do and I think slowly we’re reaping the benefit of that.”

Instead of looking ahead to the NBA draft lottery in May as the key to the Sixers’ future, they are eyeing a deep playoff run during that time. The Sixers will find out their second-round opponent possibly as soon as Thursday night. They will face the winner of the series between the Celtics (No. 2) and Bucks (No. 7), which Boston leads, 3-2. 

The Sixers have high expectations for success. For as many years as they were a losing team, many of the current players were not part of it. They know winning, an unwavering standard they’ve set for themselves they will carry throughout the playoffs. 

“On to the next series,” Simmons said. “We've got to focus on that. But for me, this is my first season playing so this is what I'm going to expect now. Going into it, we've got to lock in and focus on that next team we play." 

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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