76ers

Furkan Korkmaz caps Sixers' improbable comeback win over Blazers with game-winning three-pointer

Furkan Korkmaz caps Sixers' improbable comeback win over Blazers with game-winning three-pointer

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The odds of the Sixers finishing 82-0 are not high. However, the odds of them coming back to beat the Trail Blazers on the road Saturday night after trailing by as many as 21 points in the third quarter sure weren’t high either. The chances of Furkan Korkmaz winning the game on a three from the right corner with 0.4 seconds left were rather low, too.

And, while we’re on the subject of improbable events Saturday night, it would have been difficult to predict that Ben Simmons would give the Sixers a one-point lead with 10.1 seconds remaining by knocking down two free throws. Simmons had been 10 for 21 on the season before those two shots.

Twenty-year-old Anfernee Simons gave Portland a 128-126 advantage with 2.2 seconds to go on a three from the left corner off a skip pass from Damian Lillard. 

Joel Embiid served the first game of a two-game suspension following a fight Wednesday with the Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns. He’ll also be out Monday when the Sixers play the Suns (9 p.m./NBCSP) on the second game of their four-game road trip.

Here are observations from the 5-0 Sixers’ win: 

Taking on the burden 

Many teams will likely play smaller lineups this season against the Sixers, looking to create a clash of styles. Portland did so in part out of necessity, with big men Hassan Whiteside (left knee) and Zach Collins (left shoulder) out. The 6-foot-8 Anthony Tolliver started at center for the Blazers, matching up against Al Horford. 

Unsurprisingly, Horford looked to attack on offense. He attempted 24 shots, his high as a Sixer, and finished with 25 points, seven assists, five rebounds and just one turnover. Tobias Harris knew he had to assume a greater scoring burden, too, and he notched 23 points on 10 of 15 shooting. It was a similar formula to the Sixers' win last Saturday in Detroit, when those two combined for 52 points.

The Sixers’ subpar three-point shooting was a predictable issue —until Korkmaz’s shot, that is. They shot 11 for 33 from three-point range, but in the end, Korkmaz's jumper is the only attempt that mattered.

On a side note, the Horford-Kyle O’Quinn backup center combination might be one of the best in the league. O’Quinn’s passing has shined since the preseason.

The downsides of aggressive defense

The Sixers aren’t going to abandon their identity as an aggressive defensive team, but Saturday's game highlighted some of the problems they might encounter throughout the year. 

With their preference of “forcing the ball off the screen” on the pick-and-roll and dropping the big man, they’re going to concede some open threes when the guard gets crushed by the pick instead of successfully snaking over it. 

There was also a sequence near the end of the first quarter when the Sixers trapped Lillard, which left Simons with a wide-open three. It’s not the first time they’ve trapped near the end of a quarter and seen it result in a player being unguarded from behind the arc. 

During a 15-0 Blazers run in the second quarter, Simmons flew by Rodney Hood (25 points) wildly in search of a block, and Hood simply waited before drilling a three from the right wing. 

All of that said, Portland played a very good offensive game, shooting 57 percent from the floor and 54.3 percent from three-point range and turning it over just seven times. Lillard (33 points on 11 for 17 shooting) made a few very, very deep threes, including a couple important ones in the fourth quarter.

The Sixers entered the night with the best defensive rating in the league at 94.1, and this game doesn’t change the reality that they seem to be an excellent defensive team. But, in an 82-game season, there will be some difficult nights like this. 

Neto helps ignite the charge

Point guard Raul Neto entered late in the third quarter and, with both Korkmaz and rookie Matisse Thybulle off the floor, helped the Sixers get back into the game. 

He had four points, two assists and two rebounds in six minutes and was a plus-13. Neto doesn’t tend to put up huge scoring numbers, but he consistently makes the right decisions and has been solid defensively when he’s gotten playing time. 

It might sound counterintuitive, but Neto didn’t drive the Sixers with pulsating energy or any eye-popping plays. He just plays smart, level-headed basketball and gave the Sixers some order against the Blazers when things were getting out of control. 

The Sixers as a whole were outstanding in refusing to believe they’d lost a game that logic suggested was over. 

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There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

There are positive signs, but still glaring issues with Sixers

After dropping their second straight game in overtime Friday night in Oklahoma City (see observations), the Sixers at times sounded like a team looking for answers.

More of that is likely struggling to answer questions coming off another brutal loss. They have an idea why they’ve lost five of their last seven after starting their season 5-0. A large part of it is a group with a bunch of new faces that are still figuring each other out. On Friday, fouls were an issue as they allowed the Thunder to attempt 41 free throws.

For a team that has championship aspirations and got off to such a hot start, this isn’t where they expected to be 12 games into the season.

“Obviously we're frustrated,” Tobias Harris said to reporters postgame. “7-5 is not where we want to be. It's early in the season and right now we're going to progress and get better and figure out ways that we can help each other and help our team and go from there. This game is over. Tomorrow, we'll watch film on it, we'll find out which ways that we can better ourselves and be ready for the next game. [We’re] 7-5 right now but ... we'll just go into the next game and be ready to get that win and go from there.”

There are reasons for optimism — with Harris being arguably the biggest.

After missing 23 straight threes and looking lost recently, Harris splashed his first trey of the game and looked like a totally different player. He finished with 21 points on 8 of 16 from the field and 3 of 4 from three. He was much more aggressive and decisive than he’d been in the previous two games.

Josh Richardson, returning to his native Oklahoma, has continued to show signs of improvement. He poured in 28 points, his highest total as a Sixer. More importantly, he’s looked much more comfortable in the offense as he figures out his role.

Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both had their moments. Embiid had a game-high 31 points and Simmons broke out after a quiet first half to play the entire second half.

One of the team’s biggest issues is figuring out the pairing of Embiid and Al Horford. The reality is Horford has never played with a center like Embiid who demands the ball and attention offensively. It’s been an obvious adjustment for Horford, who shot just 5 of 12 Friday and has done most of his damage with Embiid off the floor.

The uncomfortable offensive fit for the entire starting five has been a big reason the Sixers have been involved in so many close games. A familiar theme emerged Friday, as the Sixers held a nine-point advantage with 7:20 to go in the game. Instead of hitting the gas and putting the Thunder away, they gave up a 12-2 run and saw their lead evaporate.

These are talented players that have won in different places. They’re still learning how to win together.

“I was just telling Al about that,” Harris said, “and really it's just I think a matter of right now we are yet to be up like eight points and push that to 15 and really push what we're doing and move forward with that, and really imposing our will and dominating. And that's something that we have to get to and that's something I think we're still learning — how we can do that and how we can make those type of runs. That's something we definitely got to get better at.”

The good news is you see the talent and recognize some of the issues.

And Brett Brown has 70 games to figure it out.

“If you're sick and you don't know why, that's a problem,” Brown said. “We are in a tough spot right now, but it's a long year. I think that it doesn't take much for me to understand where we have to get better. And it's really that simple. If you're scratching your head, sort of confused, then I think we got some problems and that's not what I'm doing. I think the guys understand the areas that matter most that can best impact changing the way things are going and get back on the winning side.”

They know the problems, now they just have to answer the questions.

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Sixers Talk podcast: What went wrong in OKC?

sixers-talk-okc-ben-simmons.jpg
NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What went wrong in OKC?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Brett Brown's decision to have Furkan Korkmaz play key minutes in overtime, using more pick-and-rolls with Joel Embiid, and the loss to the Thunder.

• Should Brown have gone to Korkmaz when Tobias Harris fouled out in overtime?

• Do the Sixers need to rework their offense?

• The starting lineup looked good at times, but what went wrong in OKC?

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