Well, it certainly doesn't feel like the Philadelphia 76ers never trailed in that game against the Toronto Raptors, does it? The Sixers technically held on for the wire-to-wire 117-111 victory against Toronto, despite that lead getting Cliffhanger precarious down the stretch, getting back to .500 on the season thanks to big efforts from Ben Simmons, T.J. McConnell and Joel Embiid.
Of course, if the Raptors were on their game, the Sixers might not have escaped with this one. Following a hard-fought loss to the Warriors (and in Kyle Lowry's first game back since missing a few games with a bruised tailbone), the Raps seemed out of rhythm for most of the afternoon. The Sixers' stout defense certainly played a part in that, but the Raps also just missed shots, and generally lacked the tenacity they attacked Philly with in their two meetings this December.
Nonetheless, the Sixers played well enough to win for three quarters, and snapped out of their usual late-game momentum funk in time to not totally give the game away. Credit for that part has to go to Simmons, who rolled in a layup and the kicked out to Dario for an open three with minutes to go, expanding a dangling one-point Sixers lead to a relatively secure six they were able to protect from there. He also made the Raps pay for intentionally hacking him late, calmly sinking two to keep Toronto at bay. Embiid also helped clinch things with late free throws, part of his 34-point, 11-rebound afternoon (see video), and with mighty defense around the basket that closed things off for the surging Raps.
And yet, this was once again the T.J. McConnell game. He tangled early with Raptors star (and professional Sixers torturer) DeMar DeRozan, and that seemed to ignite an unusually aggressive T.J., as Timothy John went on to score a career-high 18 on 8-13 shooting, to go with eight dimes, six boards and three steals (see video) — also helping to hold DeMar to a manageable 24 points for the afternoon. He did get passive late, which he kicked himself for a little in his post-game interview, but it was still a magnificent afternoon for Teej, and his buckets were invaluable on an afternoon where our shooters weren't hitting much (6-25 from deep) and nobody besides JoJo was doing much in the half-court.
Even though they had to work for it at the end a little more than we'd like, there's no denying the size of this win for the Sixers. Aside from giving them a statement W over one of the East's elite, it keeps them from falling too far back of the playoff pack, while the Pacers are surging and while the Sixers still have some tough games immediately ahead of them, I figured if they got one win in their four-pack against the Celts, Raps, Celts again and Bucks, they'd be in decent shape — now, they have two more chances to come out with a split.
What's more, you can now add Toronto to the list of very good teams the Sixers don't have to worry about playing again this season — a list that already includes the Warriors and Rockets, and is one game away from also including the Celtics. Though it's dampened their 20-20 record until this point, it's pretty incredible to be halfway through January and already be done playing arguably the league's four best teams, two of which are in their division. Smooth sailing is on the horizon, and in the meantime we're officially in the midst of #SixersJanuary. Salvation is free.