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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Sixers at Trail Blazers: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Sixers at Trail Blazers: Live stream, storylines, game time and more

Updated: 8:30 p.m.

The 4-0 Sixers are the only undefeated team left in the NBA. They’ll look to keep it that way Saturday night as they begin a four-game West Coast road trip in Portland.

Here are tonight’s essentials for the Sixers’ game against the 3-2 Trail Blazers:

When: 10 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 9:30 p.m.
Where: Moda Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia Plus
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

The backup plan 

The Sixers’ worst loss of last season in terms of margin of defeat was Dec. 30 in Portland. They lost 129-95 and trailed by as many as 43 points.

Joel Embiid was out that night with left knee soreness, and he’ll be out Saturday as he serves the first game of his two-game suspension for a fight Wednesday with Karl-Anthony Towns.

Amir Johnson started at center in that ugly loss for the Sixers, while Al Horford is expected to start Saturday. Those players are close in age but Horford is clearly in a different class

The key to containing Lillard

Damian Lillard is averaging 29.0 points per game and 17.2 of them have come out of the pick-and-roll. He’s run more pick-and-roll than any player in the league

There are some similarities to the challenge the Sixers had Monday against Trae Young, another very good pick-and-roll player with extended range. Lillard has shot 10 for 24 (41.7 percent) from 26 feet and out. 

As the Sixers did against Young, it would make sense to give Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle most of the responsibility against Lillard. Horford’s pick-and-roll defense should be helpful against Lillard, regardless of who Portland starts at center — Hassan Whiteside is out with a left knee injury and Zach Collins is out with a left shoulder injury. 

A good time to pivot?

While we’re on the topic of pick-and-rolls, the Sixers have run the fewest of any team in the league. They also lead the NBA in post-ups

Perhaps, with Embiid out, that ratio will shift a bit tonight and we’ll see some more pick-and-roll centered around Richardson and Tobias Harris. In general, this might be a game in which Harris steps more into the spotlight. 

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NBA free agency: After bizarre confusion, sign-and-trade with Jimmy Butler and Josh Richardson is a done deal, team source confirms

NBA free agency: After bizarre confusion, sign-and-trade with Jimmy Butler and Josh Richardson is a done deal, team source confirms

Jimmy Butler is headed to Miami and Josh Richardson will join the Sixers. We can now say that sentence with a little more confidence than we could in the early hours of Monday morning.

It's a bizarre story, perhaps even weirder than the December 2018 trade that reportedly fell apart because of confusion regarding whether Dillon Brooks or MarShon Brooks was involved. 

According to the New York Times' Marc Stein, the Mavericks originally thought they were receiving Derrick Jones Jr. and Kelly Olynyk from Miami in a three-team sign-and-trade, with the Sixers getting Richardson and the Heat adding Butler. Sounds simple enough.

However, Stein reports the Heat were not willing to give up Jones and said they needed to include Goran Dragic in the deal for salary-matching purposes. Dragic and Jones are much more difficult names to confuse than Brooks and Brooks.

Miami finally completed the deal late Monday afternoon, a team source confirmed. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Zach Lowe first reported the new deal, which includes the Clippers and Trail Blazers. Wojnarowski and Lowe report Portland's Maurice Harkless is headed to the Clippers, Miami's Hassan Whiteside is moving to Portland, while Miami is sending a future first-round pick to the Blazers.

The only change of note for the Sixers is that the team is sending 2017 second-round pick Mathias Lessort to Los Angeles, a team source confirmed. The Inquirer's Keith Pompey first reported Lessort's inclusion in the revised deal. A French big man, the 23-year-old Lessort averaged 8.8 points and 5.4 rebounds last season for Unicaja Málaga in Spain's Liga ACB. The prospects of him ever playing for the Sixers seemed very slim.

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