With a quarterfinal berth nearly in their grasp, the Sixers fell apart in the fourth quarter Saturday night but Furkan Korkmaz was there to save the day again.
Thanks to a furious late run and an and-1 from Korkmaz with 3.6 seconds left, the Sixers pulled out a miraculous 91-89 win over the Milwaukee Bucks to advance to the quarterfinals of the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League. They'll play the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday at 10 p.m.
The Sixers led, 71-61, early in the fourth quarter, but some sloppy play and stagnant offense allowed the Bucks to go on a 15-0 run. But the Sixers made a strong late push. Trailing 88-80, Korkmaz and the Sixers went on a run of their own. Two free throws from Korkmaz with 36.1 seconds left cut the deficit to 89-87. Then, with the clock ticking down, he drove from the left wing and converted his decisive leaner, the shot rolling around the rim before dropping in. Korkmaz calmly made the free throw to give the Sixers the lead.
Jonah Bolden broke up an inside pass intended for Milwaukee’s Christian Wood on the ensuing inbounds play. He made one of two free throws with 1.2 seconds left, and the Bucks couldn’t get off a desperation heave.
Let’s get into five observations from Saturday’s incredible win:
1. Even before his late-game heroics, Korkmaz’s assertiveness was noticeable Saturday night. With the Sixers’ offense floundering, Korkmaz confidently pushed the pace and looked to score. He wasn’t always in control, but to see him create his own offense instead of camping out in the corner and waiting for the game to come to him was encouraging.
"Of course I feel proud of [my performance] because I just got here," Korkmaz told ESPN's Cassidy Hubbarth after the game. Korkmaz arrived in Las Vegas after competing in FIBA World Cup European Qualifiers for Turkey.
"The guys are really positive guys. We stay as a team and we play together. If I need to talk about myself, I feel good on the court. I just try to play more aggressive and that's the point for me."
There was absolutely no hesitation on this coast-to-coast drive and Euro step finish from Korkmaz in the second quarter.
Korkmaz’s trust in himself as a ball-handler and shot creator could be an important element of his game. That said, showing the same conviction against physical NBA wings is, of course, a much bigger challenge than doing it in summer league.
After the game, Korkmaz reiterated his aggressive mindset.
“I feel more confidence in this summer league … When I feel good on the court, I start to play more aggressive," Korkmaz told reporters. "I just need to keep it up in all [my] minutes.”
Sixers summer league coach Kevin Young felt he could trust Korkmaz with the ball in his hands late.
“He’s been hot or cold all tournament long, but the thing I love about Furk is he’s a gamer," Young said. "He’s played in a lot of big games, happy to get the ball in his hands, and [I] let him kind of make a play.”
Korkmaz had 19 points on 6 for 13 shooting Saturday night.
2. Throughout the Sixers’ five summer league games, Zhaire Smith’s instincts have stood out. Offensively, he cuts well, darting backdoor at the perfect moments. His teammates often have missed him, but that shouldn’t be the case in the regular season. Defensively, he tends to make the right read, knowing when to help off his man and when to stay home. And his hands are active, like on this steal against the Bucks’ Sterling Brown and finish in transition.
It’s clear that Smith has a lot of areas to grow as he transitions to being an NBA wing. That was evident again Saturday, as he shot just 3 for 11 from the field. But those high basketball IQ instincts combined with his elite athleticism should help him improve and adjust at the next level quicker than many people may expect.
3. If Jonah Bolden can put it all together, it’s easy to see how he could be a productive piece for the Sixers. He just seems to struggle to show all his skills on the same night.
Saturday, Bolden again showed glimpses of his ability, like when he squared up his defender and knocked down a three-pointer on the right wing in the second quarter, or when he smoothly pulled down offensive rebounds. There weren’t any sustained stretches of consistently solid play, but his performance against Milwaukee was his best of summer league. Bolden had 13 points on 5 for 10 shooting and eight rebounds against the Bucks.
“To be completely honest with you, up until this point, I think I might’ve played better last summer," Bolden said. "Not to say I’ve played terribly, it’s just not up to my personal standards. And I feel I’ve gotten better and better each game. Still not up to where I’d want to be, not up to the same standard, just the consistency from Game One last summer to the end, whereas this summer has kind of been starting lower and getting up there game by game.”
At a minimum, the Sixers want to see consistent effort and defense from Bolden. Through the first four games, Young was happy with what he’d seen in that regard.
“Offensively, he’s struggled,” Young told reporters Friday. “He’s not in a great rhythm; he kind of came in late. I think that probably hurt him a little bit just in terms of individual rhythm. But defensively, he’s been good. He’s a high-energy guy. he can guard a lot of positions, which for him I think is something that is really valuable for his NBA life. He’s versatile defensively in terms of being able to guard inside against big guys, guard smaller guys. So that’s really where he’s at his best for us.”
We saw last season how Brett Brown valued Amir Johnson’s defensive presence over Richaun Holmes’ offensive spark. If Bolden is going to earn a spot on the Sixers this season, his defense may be the key.
4. Cameron Oliver has a serious affinity for attacking the rim. The Blue Coats forward, who entered Saturday’s game averaging 10.3 points and 6.0 rebounds in 19.3 minutes per game in summer league, has had far more than his fair share of emphatic dunks. He added another to his collection against Milwaukee.
Oliver’s game is still raw and at 6-foot-8 he’s on the shorter side for an NBA power forward, but his explosiveness and fearless approach is impressive. He’s a developing player worth keeping an eye on this season in Delaware.
5. Christian Wood looks like an NBA player. He’s already been one, in fact, albeit for only 17 games on the 2015-16 Sixers and 13 games on the 2016-17 Hornets. With his length, athleticism and activity, Wood seems like someone who should be able to secure a spot on an NBA bench. Saturday, he posted 27 points and 12 rebounds. The Sixers organization knows Wood well; along with that brief NBA stint a couple years back, he starred last season at the G-League level in Delaware, averaging 23.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
Speaking of Delaware, Newark’s own Donte DiVincenzo suited up for his second summer league game Saturday night. After missing Milwaukee’s first three games with a right groin strain and playing just 10 minutes Thursday against the Spurs, the Villanova product looked rusty. He air-balled his first jumper and never got into a rhythm, finishing with one point on 0 for 5 shooting.
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