'MVP' McConnell unwraps Christmas win for Sixers

'MVP' McConnell unwraps Christmas win for Sixers


NEW YORK — The NBA paired the Sixers and Knicks for a Christmas Day showcase and the teams delivered at Madison Square Garden.

The evenly matched opponents competed in a matchup of some of the league’s top young talent, headlined by Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Kristaps Porzingis. The Sixers (15-18) prevailed with a 105-98 win over the Knicks (17-16) (see observations).

With Monday's win on Broadway, the Sixers pulled within two games of the Knicks, who currently possess the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“I was so excited to play tonight because we’ve been through so much losing,” Embiid said. “To be able to be one of the few teams in the league to play on this day, it just shows you how much we’ve improved.”

The Sixers had not played on Christmas Day since 2001 against the Lakers. For a team that won 10 games just two seasons ago, the matinee selection was significant. More importantly, they broke a five-game losing streak, a skid that extended back to nine of their previous 10 contests.

“It’s huge,” Simmons said. “That’s what we definitely needed and it’s on a special day, so it was great.”

Embiid, who was a game-time decision because of back tightness, led the Sixers with a 25-point, 16-rebound double-double. He mixed in three blocks, adding him to the list of Anthony Davis, Shaquille O'Neal, Moses Malone, Rick Mahorn and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the last seven players to record at least 25 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks on Christmas.

JJ Redick followed up with 24 points (4 for 8 from three) in his first game back from right hamstring tightness. The Sixers would need more than that to fend off a massive 31-point, 22-rebound effort by Enes Kanter and 22 points, seven rebounds and five blocks by Porzingis, though.

That’s where T.J. McConnell stepped in off the bench with a season high-tying 15 points. McConnell’s high-energy performance earned high praise from Sixers head coach Brett Brown.

“He was the MVP of the game,” Brown said.

Brown also credited the Sixers’ defense for the victory. They held the Knicks to 33.3 percent shooting from the field and 28.6 percent from three in the fourth quarter. When turnovers, which had been under control all game, crept in during the final quarter (seven of their total 13 came in the final frame), the Sixers fended off a Knicks’ late-game push and kept the lead to five or more during the final three minutes.

“We got stops when we needed to,” Embiid said. 

The Sixers head back to Philadelphia with a win to their Christmas evening celebrations. They knew they couldn't take the afternoon off if they wanted to enjoy the rest of the holiday before heading out West for three games starting Thursday in Portland prior to stopping in Denver and Phoenix.

“We were on a losing streak,” Redick said. “We realized we are at a breaking point in the season. We had to play with more urgency. Today our energy was at a different level.”

Raptors continue to take care of business at home

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Raptors continue to take care of business at home

TORONTO -- Kyle Lowry scored nine of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, DeMar DeRozan added 21 and the Toronto Raptors beat San Antonio 86-83 on Friday night to snap a four-game losing streak against the Spurs.

Jonas Valanciunas had 15 points and 11 rebounds as the Raptors improved to 17-3 at home, the second-best home record in the NBA behind San Antonio's mark of 19-2.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 17 points and 14 rebounds, Pau Gasol scored 15 points and Patty Mills had 13 as San Antonio lost for the fourth time in six road games. The Spurs are 11-15 away from home.

It had been more than two years since Toronto last beat San Antonio. The Raptors won 97-94 at home on Dec. 9, 2015.

San Antonio guard Manu Ginobili missed his second straight game because of a sore right thigh. Ginobili returned to Texas after the Spurs won at Brooklyn on Wednesday (see full recap).

Beal, Oubre spark Wizards’ win over Pistons
DETROIT -- Bradley Beal and Kelly Oubre Jr. had 26 points each, and the Washington Wizards scored 45 points in the third quarter before holding on for a 122-112 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Friday night.

The Pistons cut a 20-point second-half deficit to four in the fourth quarter, but John Wall made a big 3-pointer to put the Wizards up 107-100. Oubre added a four-point play a few possessions later to push Washington's lead to nine.

Andre Drummond had 14 points, 21 rebounds and eight assists for the Pistons, who have lost four straight.

Both teams were struggling coming into the game. The Wizards lost by 24 at Charlotte on Wednesday, and they fell behind by 15 in the first quarter at Detroit. It was tied at 46 at halftime, though (see full recap).

Nets edge Heat to snap 5-game home skid
NEW YORK -- DeMarre Carroll scored 26 points, Spencer Dinwiddie had 15 and the Brooklyn Nets beat the Miami Heat 101-95 on Friday night.

Brooklyn snapped a five-game losing skid at Barclays Center and a seven-game home losing streak to the Heat.

Caris LeVert and Joe Harris each added 12 points for the Nets. D'Angelo Russell played 14 minutes and went 0-for-5 from the field for Brooklyn in his first action after missing 32 games following left knee surgery.

Hassan Whiteside had 21 points and 13 rebounds, and Goran Dragic scored 17 points for the Heat.

LeVert made an acrobatic layup to give the Nets a 95-91 lead with 57.8 seconds remaining and then made a step-back jumper to ice the game at 97-91 (see full recap).

Is a rival upset with Embiid's ASG starter nod?

Is a rival upset with Embiid's ASG starter nod?

While Joel Embiid was sharing his first All-Star nod with his teammates and deciding to move on from his former crush, at least one person wasn’t happy that the Sixers’ center was tabbed as a starter.

Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis feels like he should have garnered that final frontcourt spot in the Eastern Conference.

“Players know,” he said, per the New York Daily News. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

True, Porzingis had more of the players’ support as he finished third in the East in that category compared to Embiid in fourth. 

However, Embiid had the trump card with a pair of third-place finishes in both media and fan voting while Porzingis came in fourth. The fan vote was the main key, as it accounted for 50 percent of the overall tally.

“I feel very blessed to be in this type of position,” Embiid said Thursday. “Thank all the fans out there for the support. It’s been a tough couple of years and I really appreciate it — everybody out there, everybody around me, the whole team, the whole organization, the fans especially, for making this happen. We can only get better from here.”

If Embiid is going to get even better, look out. He’s already averaging 23.9 points (48.7 percent shooting), 11.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.9 blocks per game this season. Oh yeah, he also has the Sixers with a 21-20 record and sitting in the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Meanwhile, Porzingis’ overall numbers have gone down every month this season. He’s currently putting up 23.6 points (43.4 percent shooting), 6.9 boards, 1.2 assists and 2.4 blocks a night. And the Knicks have lost 11 of their last 15 games to fall to 20-25.

“Everybody has their own opinion,” Porzingis said. “Fans are one thing. It is what it is. There are a lot of things I could have done better also. It is what it is.”