76ers

Warriors 120, Sixers 117: After hot start, lead disappears in 2nd half

Warriors 120, Sixers 117: After hot start, lead disappears in 2nd half

BOX SCORE 

After being beaten by the Sixers on Jan. 31 at Oracle Arena, you knew the Warriors would want revenge.

They got it Saturday night, beating the Sixers, 120-117, at Wells Fargo Center. The Sixers had a chance to tie it, down three with 2.4 seconds left, but a well-guarded Tobias Harris stepped out of bounds.

Kevin Durant (34 points), DeMarcus Cousins (25 points) and Stephen Curry (28 points) led the way for the Warriors, who were without Klay Thompson (right knee soreness).

The Sixers are now 3-2 since the All-Star break without Joel Embiid (left knee tendinitis). Embiid talked in depth before the game about his injury and said he plans to be back by next week (see story)

Here are observations from the loss: 

• Ben Simmons played perhaps the best game of his career when the Sixers beat the Warriors in January, posting 26 points, eight rebounds, six assists and three steals. 

His first-half performance Saturday was near that standard  — Simmons scored 18 points on 7 for 8 shooting, played excellent defense and pushed the pace well. 

In the second half, Simmons struggled. He shot just 3 for 7 after halftime, unable to jump-start the Sixers’ offense and coughing it up whenever he tried to create something special. He nearly had a quadruple-double of sorts, finishing with 25 points, 15 rebounds, 11 assists and nine turnovers. 

• When the Sixers took a 71-57 lead early in the third quarter, the thought briefly crossed your mind that they might run away with a win. But the two-time defending champs don’t usually let that happen.

Golden State immediately went on a 16-0 run as the Sixers’ comfortable lead evaporated. The Sixers' inability to stem the run was disappointing, but it’s certainly not the first time the Warriors have stormed back into a game. 

• Harris needed 20 shots to get his 20 points and, like Simmons, wasn’t very effective in the second half, shooting 1 for 8. Harris has played nine games with the Sixers and only shot under 50 percent from the field twice — Saturday night and Feb. 12 vs. the Celtics. 

• If we’ve learned anything about Mike Scott (season-high 22 points) during his short time with the Sixers, it’s that he doesn’t mess around and he knocks down three-point shots. When Jordan Bell took exception to a foul by Scott late in the second quarter, Scott had no hesitation pressing his forehead against Bell’s and getting into a heated dialogue. Bell and Scott both received technical fouls. 

You might remember Scott also picked up a technical on Feb. 23 vs. Portland, sticking up for Simmons (see video).

Scott’s toughness isn’t manufactured or for the cameras. When he gets in an opponent’s face, he’s dead serious. 

His three three-pointers in the third quarter were big for the Sixers, helping to stem Golden State’s run. Scott nailed three long-range shots in the fourth as well. 

• Jonah Bolden, starting for the second straight night, got off to a tremendous start. He scored the Sixers’ first basket, driving by Cousins in the right corner, making one long, explosive dribble to the rim, and finishing with a reverse lay-up — plus a foul from Alfonzo McKinnie. 

About a minute later, he allowed Cousins to get deep post position on him, but then swatted away Cousins’ jump hook. 

Amir Johnson missed Saturday’s game with upper-back tightness, meaning the Sixers had to lean on Bolden more than usual. The rookie played 21 minutes, and he came back to earth a little after his opening surge. He appeared not to know the play call on one after-timeout set, and he got into foul trouble early in the third quarter. Bolden had 12 points on 4 of 5 shooting and three rebounds.

• Another rough shooting night (2 for 9) from JJ Redick hurt the Sixers. Redick entered Saturday’s game shooting 29.2 percent from the floor in his last six games. 

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Sixers' vision of what Furkan Korkmaz could be shouldn't lead them to block out other options

Sixers' vision of what Furkan Korkmaz could be shouldn't lead them to block out other options

Before his team played its preseason finale Friday night, Brett Brown labeled the game as something approximating a dress rehearsal. But, unless a flurry of unexpected misfortune hits the Sixers before their regular-season opener Wednesday night vs. the Celtics, Furkan Korkmaz will not start, as he did against the Wizards in place of Ben Simmons (out with back tightness).

It does appear, however, that the Turkish wing will play legitimate minutes early this season. Brown seemed to confirm as much before the Sixers' 112-93 loss, talking about Korkmaz’s progress and resilience in glowing terms.

The Sixers declined Korkmaz’s third-year option last season, then ultimately re-signed the 22-year-old in late July.

I am [looking for him to contribute]. And I don’t want to be harsh about it — that’s what he’s gotta do," Brown said of where Korkmaz finds himself now after his struggles last year. "That’s part of life in the NBA. It’s not like he’s an established player. … This is not the league for the weak. 

“He should go to Europe if that was going to dismember his spirit. He’s great people, and he’s fighting to stay in the league, he’s fighting to get minutes — he’s fighting. … That’s the phase and the stage that the young man is at, and I give him credit for not blinking. He just didn’t go away. Now, here he is.

Brown’s answer was impassioned, and his words weren't bogus. But Korkmaz’s character and attitude alone don’t warrant a spot in the Sixers’ rotation. He started Friday for one primary reason — the notion that he is an outside shooter. 

Though Brown praised Korkmaz’s defense and his maturation, the Sixers’ head coach also said this:

“We’re always just trying to mine shooters. You’re trying to find and mine and help cultivate shooters. If he is anything, he is that.”

Korkmaz has, in fact, not been a good shooter at the NBA level. He’s shot 38.8 percent from the field in 62 NBA regular-season games, 32.3 percent from three-point range. After a 2-for-9 performance Friday, he finished 10 for 25 overall during the preseason, 4 for 13 from behind the arc.

The concept of Korkmaz filling a three-point shooting void after JJ Redick’s move to the Pelicans is, on its face, appealing to the Sixers. Korkmaz has a pretty shot; he’s done well in international play; he had an incredible July night last year in Las Vegas, scoring 40 points in a summer-league game.

Perhaps those hints of promise will translate to the NBA. However, if there’s an assumption that Korkmaz’s identity as a shooter makes him worthy of a rotation spot, it would be misguided.

There are alternatives in that mix for bench wing minutes, though they’re also young and unproven in the NBA.

Shake Milton, a two-way player last year, has played both at point guard and on the wing during the preseason. The SMU product, who averaged 24.9 points in 27 G-League games as a rookie, is a more advanced playmaker and a superior defender to Korkmaz. 

The 23-year-old told NBC Sports Philadelphia he hasn’t been given an indication yet of his regular-season role.

“No,” he said. “My job is just to come in and do whatever the team needs me to do. I’ve kind of been flip-flopping during practice. I’ve just got to do whatever the team needs me to do, bottom line. Guard and either make plays for others or be ready to knock down shots and score.” 

This time last year, Milton was returning to competitive basketball after missing summer league because of a stress fracture in his back. He acknowledged Friday night he feels more explosive, and he’s looked it, showing off a burst on the fast break that wasn’t present early last season.

“I feel like it’s been a huge jump, personally,” he said. “For one, the confidence that I have out there, my body feels good, feel physically ready. I go out there with confidence, my teammates have confidence in me, the coaches have confidence in me. Just going out there and being fearless.”

Zhaire Smith, meanwhile, has been seen exclusively in garbage time this preseason. Just as Korkmaz’s shooting or Milton’s versatility might be attractive to Brown, one would think Smith’s “pogo stick” athleticism and penchant for on-ball defense could boost his stock.

That hasn’t been the case, with Smith’s novel of a rookie year — one that included a broken foot, a severe allergic reaction and jumpers with tubes in his stomach — putting him behind Milton and Korkmaz at the moment, in Brown’s eyes.

“He’s expecting me to develop all around,” Smith said Friday of Brown’s expectations. “Last year we tried to develop, but then obviously I had the setback. He feels like this is my rookie year, like this is [about] development.” 

The perspective that this season should be centered on learning and personal growth for Smith is fair enough. So is the idea that Korkmaz might have unique value for the Sixers. 

He hasn’t delivered it yet, though. The Sixers would, in this writer’s view, be wise not to let their vision of his potential block out other options. 

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Sixers will hang their hat on defense, but those shooting questions haven't gone away

Sixers will hang their hat on defense, but those shooting questions haven't gone away

It was clear this offseason that GM Elton Brand built the Sixers with a specific idea in mind.

He wanted his team to be a gargantuan defensive bully. The Sixers have bought into it, with just about every player stating the team’s goal of wanting to be the No. 1 defensive outfit in the NBA.

The biggest concern seemed to be their lack of three-point shooting with the departure of JJ Redick. Unfortunately for Brett Brown, his team did little to quell those concerns.

A rough shooting preseason was capped by a 7-for-27 performance in a listless 112-93 loss to the Wizards Friday night (see observations).

When asked about it before the game, Brown thought the storyline was overblown.

“I think it's not as big of a problem as maybe the marketplace does,” Brown said pregame. “I think that we have shooters here. Are they at the standard of JJ Redick? No. But if that's the bar, well, it's pretty high. And so I think as you go through the list of players, although you're not seeing like a high volume, low 40 percent … type of high-volume threes at such a pretty high percentage … you're not seeing that on the roster. But I still have confidence that we have a team that can shoot. Will that be our identity? No. Will it be needed? Yep. But I think that we're a better shooting team than what I sense the marketplace thinks.”

The numbers don’t help Brown here. 

Al Horford and Mike Scott both shot over 40 percent from three. None of the other main rotation players even shot league average — not including Ben Simmons’ immaculate 1 for 1.

Josh Richardson (33.3), Tobias Harris (25), Joel Embiid (22.2), Matisse Thybulle (26.7) and James Ennis (12.5) contributed to the Sixers shooting a paltry 31.7 percent from three this preseason.

Even given those numbers and the especially poor performance Friday, Brown is still standing by his claim.

“I stand by my comment,” Brown said postgame. “I think that we have better shooters than the marketplace believes. Those comments, my comments, aren't well supported when you look at the statistics in the preseason, but I do think that. I still think that and it's stuff that we need to believe in that and not shy away from it. I don't want to at all and we won't shy away from it. I think that the attention that we have given to offensive rebounding may help ease some of those misses if we can do what we hope to do from that perspective. But I think that we have better shooters then we have shown in the preseason.”

Brown does have a point in that aforementioned players have shot much better throughout their NBA careers than they’ve shown through five preseason games.

But it has to be considered a legitimate concern. The Sixers are sort of bucking trends by trotting out their huge, defensive-oriented roster, but they recognize that shooting is still a must.

In the second quarter Friday, the Wizards went to a zone defense. It’s not the first time the Sixers have seen that this preseason and, after how poorly they managed it Friday, it likely won’t be the last. The obvious caveat is that it was a flat performance by the Sixers in general. They definitely had the feel of a team just going through the motions as a date with Boston on opening night looms.

The ball movement at times has been excellent and it’s led to some great looks. To a certain extent, the shots just didn’t fall in the preseason. 

“I think the looks have been good,” Harris said. “I think we'll just continue to find each other's own games and where we want those looks from beyond the arc. It's obviously early too in preseason of games where we've been able to get some good looks. Some of them haven't fallen, but they'll continue to come with time and just us figuring out where each other needs the ball, wants the ball with threes we want to take, and I think the more we hunt the threes, the better off we are to be able to shoot it at a higher percentage.”

The Sixers are going to hang their hats on the defensive end, but they’ll need to shoot at least a little to get where they want to go.

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