The Sixers fought back in a way that only a Philadelphia could last night, avoiding a sweep against the Boston Celtics in an impressive 103-92 home win. While the continued efficiency from Dario Saric and Joel Embiid will be heralded, there is one player and one decision that deserves special recognition.
Before the game, Brett Brown announced that T.J McConnell would be starting in place of Robert Covington. To say this was deserved would be an understatement. McConnell hit every shot he made (6-of-6) in games 2 and 3 against a Celtics defense that extinguished any explosiveness previously presented by the Sixers, while Ben Simmons and company still struggled to find their rhythm. In all fairness, it was the only card Brown had left in his hand, the card of the underdog.
Philly LOVES and underdog and there may be none greater than McConnell. A former undrafted free agent out of Arizona, McConnell not only stuck with the team through the tumultuous final years of the process, but has developed in each of the last four years into a reliable piece off the bench.
He was much more than that on Monday Night. McConnell was the surge of energy that the Sixers offense needed. With 19 points in a team-high 39 minutes, he also poached seven rebounds and added five assists to his tally. What really stood out however, was his ability to contain a somewhat combustable Terry Rozier, who has become a nightmare for the Sixers in this series. But why was McConnell so dangerous?
The answer is simple. Because he played with the fire, aggression and passion that the team had lacked in the opening three encounters. Shrouded in doubt, inefficiency and conservation due to an ever-evolving Celtics defense, the Sixers struggled to get back to the kind of confident, sassy play that saw them rise to that scintillating sixteen game winning streak heading into the playoffs. McConnell’s play defines that. Whether it’s his unrelenting nature to go up for boards or the fact he will never give up on a play, all it took was the opening few shots to drop for a surge of momentum to flood back through the Sixers veins, melting the stiffness that had filled them previously.
I don’t like comparing Football teams to Basketball teams because the sports are so different. But for lack of a better term, Brett Brown dialed up the Blitz and threw the kitchen sink at a Celtics team that appeared to think this unit was going to roll over. Frustrations flowed into altercations between stars and the Sixers faithful who crammed the Wells Fargo made sure their voices were heard, rallying the troops to ensure another lead is not blown.
At the core of their chants was one name. “TJ”.
McConnell may not start every game for the Sixers, but the injection of ferocity was a needed one. An old adage stats that ‘A hungry Dog runs faster’. McConnell sprinted as fast as his legs would carry him last night and made everyone else in the pack wake up and smell the danger. Backs to the wall, all on the line, this is where the underdogs shine. Going into a crucial game five, that fire ignited by an undersized point guard who was passed on by every NBA franchise back in 2015, will burn brighter than ever.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports