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.
ARE YOU FURKAN KIDDING ME— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) November 3, 2019
FOR THE LEAD pic.twitter.com/2CxcQncIov
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.
Kyle O'Quinn with the— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) November 3, 2019
P A S S
Tobias Harris with the
J A M pic.twitter.com/nMVgXxJXD9
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.
Getting back in to this 👀— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) November 3, 2019
Neto finds Horford who lays it in for a pair! Sixers trail, 102-98. pic.twitter.com/wfiTwdEH2R
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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