Trailing the Portland Trail Blazers 128-126 with just a couple of seconds remaining, it looked like the Philadelphia 76ers' unblemished start to the 2019-20 NBA season could be coming to an end on Saturday night. However, Furkan Korkmaz had other ideas.
After using a high screen from Al Horford to create some space, Korkmaz ran to the deep corner, caught an inbound pass from Ben Simmons and let a shot fly as he was simultaneously knocked to the ground by Blazers guard Damian Lillard. The shot dropped through the rim, and secured a 5-0 start for the first-place Sixers. It was Korkmaz's first NBA game-winner, and undoubtedly the biggest shot he has ever hit in a Sixers uniform. It was also a well drawn-up out-of-bounds play by 76ers head coach Brett Brown. Check out the play below:
Though Korkmaz's shot will get most of the headlines, and deservedly so, the win was a big one for the Sixers for a couple of reasons. First, they were without Joel Embiid, who was serving the first of a two-game suspension, and anytime they are able to pull out a win without Embiid, it's a positive. Though it's only been a handful of games, the team appears much better equipped to handle absences from Embiid this season compared to past years.
Second, Korkmaz's shot also served as the exclamation point for what was an extremely impressive comeback effort from Philadelphia. The Sixers were consistently down double figures over the course of the first three quarters, and they trailed by as many 21 at one point in the game. Every time they made some inroads, the Blazers seemed to have an answer. Instead of folding without their All-Star center, though, the Sixers kept fighting, and chipping away, and ultimately put themselves in position to win the game. Portland was also shorthanded, as it was without several members of the frontcourt. Nonetheless, the resiliency that the Sixers showed was impressive. Yes, it's still super early in the season, but that type of win is a character-builder.
Philadelphia benefited from some solid bench production against Portland as well. Mike Scott had 12 off the pine, while Korkmaz added 11, and the rest of the reserves combined for 20. This has been a trend for the SIxers this season. Through five games, the Sixers bench is averaging 33.8 points per game, good for 19th in the league. While that ranking isn't amazing, it is an improvement from last season when they were ranked 29th in that category.
While they were able to walk away with a win, there are still some clear areas of improvement needed for the Sixers that were evident on Saturday night. They need to shoot better from long distance; they're averaging just 31 percent from deep as a team on the season. They did a poor job of defending Portland's perimeter shooters, letting the Blazers convert 19 3-pointers at a 55 percent clip.
Overall, though, the Sixers have to be happy with their strong start to the season, and wins like they were able to pull out against the Blazers will help them moving forward.