Without Ben Simmons, Sixers cruise past Magic with T.J. McConnell

Without Ben Simmons, Sixers cruise past Magic with T.J. McConnell


Ben Simmons has been an invaluable motor for the Sixers. From running the offense to dishing savvy no-look passes to pulling down rebounds for 11 double-doubles, he leaves holes all over the floor when he isn’t on it.

T.J. McConnell filled those gaps, and then some.

The backup point guard found himself in familiar territory when he was called upon to start for an injured player. Simmons missed the game because of left elbow soreness sustained in Wednesday’s win over the Trail Blazers. McConnell had done this plenty of times over the last two seasons, but on Saturday night, he took it to another level in the Sixers' 130-111 win over the Magic (see observations).

McConnell recorded his sixth career double-double with 15 points and 13 assists. He rounded out his 37-minute performance with seven rebounds, three steals, a block and just one turnover.

“He was amazing,” Joel Embiid said.

McConnell won’t brag about this game. He won’t acknowledge how statistically strong he was or take credit for the Sixers blowing out the Magic. That’s one of the reasons why McConnell has been so successful. It’s always been about his teammates. 

“I was just finding open guys and they were making shots,” McConnell said. “It’s that easy. I don’t want to overcomplicate it. Just running the offense and finding the shooters and trying to find the big fella too.”

McConnell found one shooter more than others. He dished five assists to JJ Redick, four of which were for first-half treys. That chemistry factored into Redick’s game-high 29 points and 8 for 12 long-range shooting. Redick also set a Wells Fargo Center record for most three-pointers in a half (six). 

"We’re just kind of cutting and moving around his penetration and he kind of uses that," Redick said. "We call it ‘Nash,’ where he dribbles underneath the basket and back around as just a way to sort of create action for us." 

Brett Brown attributed the cohesion between McConnell and Redick to their similarly “high motors" and movement on the court. McConnell summed up his chemistry with Redick by pointing to the veteran’s proven résumé.

“He’s a point guard’s dream when it comes to shooters,” McConnell said. “He’s the best I’ve ever played with and anytime you see him open you should get him the ball. It’s a pretty smart thing to do.”

When the Sixers found out they would be playing without Simmons for the first time this season, McConnell and Embiid talked about their 10-5 month of January last year. Embiid reminded him of how well they played together in the starting lineup, and more notably, how well the ball moved. It was a reminder of how well they could perform as starters again.

So while McConnell was looking for Redick and his teammates (he also found Embiid, Robert Covington, Amir Johnson, Jerryd Bayless and Dario Saric for assists), Embiid was trying to help him out, too.

Last season, McConnell fell one assist shy of a triple-double. So when Embiid saw he needed three boards to reach the mark, the big man tried to deliver an assist of his own.

“I told him to kind of every time there was nobody around me, and then I had a rebound," Embiid said in jest, "I told him to come get the rebound so he could get the triple-double. But he didn’t do it. I was so pissed at him.”

McConnell’s reaction?

“Joel had told me [about the triple-double] when I got subbed out,” he said. “But he said he was going to tell the coaches to leave me in, and I begged him not to.”

The Sixers will reevaluate Simmons before determining his status for Monday against the Cavaliers. If he cannot play, the team can count on McConnell to deliver the same kind of grit and determination he displayed in this win. 

"He plays with such tenacity and energy," Redick said. "We all just fed off that tonight."

NBA admits mistake that leaves Sixers scratching their heads

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NBA admits mistake that leaves Sixers scratching their heads

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers were right.

The Sixers argued they should have set up at halfcourt, not fullcourt, for a decisive final possession of double overtime in Friday’s game against the Thunder. After a closer look following their triple-overtime loss, the NBA ruled the Sixers were proved correct. 

“After review, it was determined that the 76ers called timeout with 00:01.2 remaining on the game clock, which was prior to Saric's (PHI) dribble. Therefore, they should have been given the opportunity to advance the ball into their own frontcourt for the inbound,” the NBA Officiating’s Last Two Minute Report noted.

The confusion occurred at the end of the second overtime. Dario Saric got a defensive rebound and the Sixers called a timeout before he dribbled the ball. Because of this, the Sixers should have been allowed to set up a final play in the halfcourt, which is exactly what they had practiced and called.

But the referees made a last-second change as the Sixers were setting up. The Sixers were told they had to inbound from fullcourt, which would have been the case if Saric had dribbled before the timeout. The Last Two Minute Report indicated he, in fact, did not. 

“Respect that they are that transparent, but complete disappointment that it can happen,” Brett Brown said Sunday. “You really scratch your head. It’s significant.”

Every play, every basket can make a difference for a team fighting to make the playoffs. The Sixers were confident they could have won the game with the halfcourt play. Instead, they dropped back down to .500 and currently 10 in the Eastern Conference.

“Those things you need to avoid to give yourself every chance to win,” Brown said. “We can point to many other things that were self-inflicted wounds that we’ve got to do better. But when it’s that exposed and that prominent of an environment with 1.2 seconds left, it’s disappointing. But like I say, they’re transparent. I respect the fact they admitted it and we move on.”

Joel Embiid out Monday against Bulls; 2 other Sixers sidelined

Joel Embiid out Monday against Bulls; 2 other Sixers sidelined

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid does not play both games of a back-to-back, but whether he plays in either of the Sixers' next two matchups will have to be determined.

Embiid is not traveling with the Sixers to Chicago for Monday’s game against the suddenly-streaking Bulls, who have won five straight. The big man usually plays at home in these scenarios, and considering he played 49 minutes in Friday’s triple-overtime loss, the decision was expected.

Embiid’s availability for Tuesday at home against the Kings, though, has not been finalized at this point. This is not surprising either being two days ahead of the game. Embiid, who has been dealing with back tightness, did not participate in practice Sunday. The Sixers will evaluate, monitor, and go through treatment with Embiid before making their call.

“Unsure at this stage,” Brett Brown said Sunday. “I do know he’s categorically out tomorrow and we’re going to learn more about him being available when we come back [for] Sacramento, I’d expect in the next 24 hours.”

The Sixers do know they will be without another two players for some time.

Trevor Booker will miss at least the next two games after suffering spraining his left ankle Friday. The newly acquired reserve will be reevaluated in approximately five-to-seven days.

Even though Booker was traded to the Sixers less than two weeks ago, he already made an impact on the second unit. Brown has seen enough over the last four games to know what the team will be missing.

“His toughness,” Brown said. “He’s got a motor. He plays with such a spirit. He’s a man. He’s a pro. He’s been in the league for a while. He gets it. It’s everything that you miss. It’s really everything this team needs.”

Furkan Korkmaz likely will be sidelined even longer. The rookie suffered a Lisfranc injury on his left foot while playing for the Delaware 87ers on Dec. 15 and is out indefinitely. The Sixers recalled Korkmaz from the G League and he is going through evaluation and testing. There is no timetable set for Korkmaz at this point.  

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons described the injury as, “Lisfranc (midfoot) injuries result if bones in the midfoot are broken or ligaments that support the midfoot are torn. The severity of the injury can vary from simple to complex, involving many joints and bones in the midfoot.”

Korkmaz has been going back and forth between the Sixers and their G League affiliate in Delaware to get playing opportunities as part of his development in his first NBA season.