As soon as the clock ran out and the buzzer sounded in the 76ers' second home loss of the season, a 127-124 setback to the Brooklyn Nets, Furkan Korkmaz headed to the locker room with one thing on his mind. He wanted to watch two fourth-quarter possessions that he felt cost the Sixers the game.
It is possible that the two possessions — turnovers attributed to Korkmaz — were nails in the coffin. But what followed was a string of events that were eye-opening and show that the Sixers are on the right track.
First, let’s set the scene. With 2 minutes, 50 seconds left to play, the Sixers were down by eight points. Korkmaz, in his first career start, had the ball on the right wing, and was looking at Ben Simmons who was fronting Rodions Kurucs in the post. He sent a quick bounce pass to Simmons, but Kurucs got a hand in the way and knocked the ball to Nets teammate Spencer Dinwiddie.
On the other end, Dinwiddie dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds and the Sixers had another chance to cut the Nets' lead.
Again, Korkmaz got the ball on the right wing and looked for Simmons. Korkmaz’s overhead pass to Simmons, who was even deeper in the post, was again deflected by Kurucs.
As Brett Brown would later explain, the action that the Sixers normally run in that scenario is Simmons catching the ball a little farther out, where he can either pass to JJ Redick coming off the top of screen action, drive in for a shot himself, or locate Joel Embiid on a roll. But Simmons looked like he was hoping for a quick turn-around bucket, and instead of meeting the pass, let the ball come to him.
“Ben felt like he had the guy buried, and you know, in the light of day we’ll go back and see that,” Brown said. “I wish he’d stepped off the block and run what we were looking for, but [when] Ben gets people deep, you can see what he’s thinking. I thought that almost was the game during that sequence.”
It would have been really easy for Brown to blame the less-experienced Korkmaz for the ill-timed and telegraphed passes when Simmons didn’t have great position, but he didn’t. Korkmaz shared the sentiment that the game was lost in that sequence, but instead put the blame squarely on his own shoulders.
“After the game, right away when I came to the locker room I wanted to watch those possessions because I think those two possessions was the game,” he said. “I feel like I could throw a better pass, more tougher pass... maybe I need to take more time, pass the ball two seconds later, I don’t know. I will watch that again and again and again.”
Korkmaz went on to say that he thought he did well in his first NBA start, but even on a night when he matched a career-high 18 points (first achieved just two days before), he was unwilling to let go of the blame.
“Those two turnovers are really hurting me right now,” he said. “I don’t feel good about it.”
Even though it was a single regular-season loss -- on a night when the already shallow Sixers were depleted, missing Jimmy Butler and Mike Muscala -- Korkmaz was taking the moment very seriously. For a guy who has played just 35 NBA games, it was hard to watch him beat himself up, but also encouraging in the sense that his immediate reaction was to get better.
That honesty and work ethic doesn’t go unnoticed by his teammates. For the second straight game, Korkmaz sat next to Embiid at the podium during postgame interview. This time, after Korkmaz was asked a few more questions by reporters, Embiid chimed in unprovoked.
“By the way, he’s been doing a great job," Embiid said. “It’s been such a tough situation for him and he has stepped up given the opportunity, and he’s been helping us a lot.”
Korkmaz, less than two months removed from the Sixers not picking up the option on his contract, breathed heavily and patted Embiid on the knee. Embiid returned the gesture, patting Korkmaz on the arm.
Embiid didn’t have to say anything. It was a sign of leadership and understanding that speaks to the growth of both him and the Sixers.
The truth of the turnovers is that the blame falls somewhere between both Korkmaz and Simmons. And the game was lost long before the two miscues in the fourth quarter.
Brown, Embiid, and Simmons all touched on the multitude of reasons for the loss, including the Sixers' lack of depth, their inability to effectively guard teams with multiple shot-creating guards, their lack of movement late in the game, and trying to force things. And it definitely didn’t help that the Sixers were missing two key players, and that Redick is not shooting the ball particularly well.
There are plenty of negatives to look at from Wednesday night’s loss to the Nets, but there are positives, too.
The Sixers are not shying away from their deficiencies, and Brown admitted after the game that their problems are worrisome -- especially when he looks down the road at teams they might face in the postseason. The acknowledgement, the willingness of the young Sixers to get better, the fight that the reserves showed at the end of the game, and the leadership qualities that are being shown on the roster are important and encouraging.
“There’s no limit in basketball, you can learn every day,” Korkmaz later said, adding that there’s not a day he doesn’t work individually or with the coaching staff, watching tape and trying to grow his knowledge of the game.
Until the Sixers can get some much needed help, using each day as a learning experience is exactly what they need to do. Their response to Wednesday’s loss was as good as it could have been.