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."

Russell Westbrook, Thunder snap Raptors' win streak

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Russell Westbrook, Thunder snap Raptors' win streak

TORONTO — Russell Westbrook had 37 points, 14 assists and 13 rebounds for his fifth straight triple-double, Steven Adams scored 25 points and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Raptors 132-125 on Sunday, snapping Toronto's winning streak at 11.

Paul George scored 22 points and Carmelo Anthony had 15 as the Thunder extended their winning streak to six. Corey Brewer scored 10 points for Oklahoma City.

DeMar DeRozan scored 24 points and Kyle Lowry fouled out with 22 points and 10 assists as the Eastern Conference-leading Raptors suffered just their sixth home loss of the season. Toronto is 29-6 at Air Canada Centre, the best home record in the NBA.

DeRozan, Serge Ibaka and Raptors coach Dwane Casey were all ejected in the final minute for complaining to the officials. DeRozan was incensed after not getting a call on his drive with 30 seconds left, and picked up two technicals in the following 22 seconds (see full recap).

Davis leads Pelicans past Celtics
NEW ORLEANS — Anthony Davis had 34 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the banged-up Boston Celtics 108-89 on Sunday night.

Second-year pro Cheick Diallo had a season-high 17 points and Nikola Mirotic added 16 for New Orleans, which was desperate to win after dropping four of its previous five while in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

Davis capped his night by hitting a baseline fallaway as he was fouled by Abdel Nader to make it 106-85 with 3:35 to go. The shot brought the crowd to its feet as Davis stumbled toward the sideline, where he exchanged high-fives with several fans before walking to the foul line to hit his foul shot.

The play capped a 22-6, fourth-quarter run to blow open what had been a tight game for most of the first three quarters (see full recap).

Harden scores 34 as Rockets hold off Timberwolves
MINNEAPOLIS — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets' 26th win in 28 games.

The West's top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20 (see full recap).

Bradley Beal helps Wizards pull even with Pacers

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Bradley Beal helps Wizards pull even with Pacers

WASHINGTON — Bradley Beal scored 19 points, Marcin Gortat had 18 and the Washington Wizards beat the Indiana Pacers 109-102 on Saturday night in a possible playoff preview.

Washington (40-30) earned its second straight win to move into a tie with Indiana for fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. The Wizards also claimed the first tiebreaker by taking two of three in the season series.

Gortat was 6 for 8 from the field and also grabbed eight rebounds. He scored a total of 17 points in his previous four games.

Washington went 10 for 20 from 3-point range and shot 54.8 percent from the field overall. Kelly Oubre, Jr. had 16 points for the Wizards, and Markieff Morris added 15 (see full recap).

Giannis' double-double helps Bucks hold on to beat Hawks
MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 33 points and 12 rebounds, Khris Middleton added 23 points and the Milwaukee Bucks held on for a 122-117 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

The Bucks finished off the Eastern Conference's worst team with a game-ending 11-5 run, pushing the pace after the Hawks lost ball-handler Dennis Schroder. The guard fouled out with 2:46 left, and was called for a technical foul after exchanging words with an official on the way to the sideline.

Middleton hit the free throw that started the run. The Hawks looked rushed on their next two possessions with a turnover and a blocked shot, allowing the Bucks to brush past them.

Trailing by 13 at one point, Atlanta put up a spirited fight before losing its 50th game of the year. Taurean Prince scored 38 points, while Schroder finished with 18 (see full recap).

LeBron gets 33 points in triple-double as Cavs beat Bulls
CHICAGO — LeBron James scored 33 points as part of a triple-double, Jordan Clarkson had a tiebreaking four-point play with 1:27 left and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Chicago Bulls 114-109 on Saturday night.

James had 12 rebounds and 12 assists for his 15th triple-double of the season, and Jeff Green added 21 points. Clarkson finished with 19 points to help the Cavaliers salvage a six-game split on their season-high six-game trip.

Denzel Valentine led Chicago with a career-high 34 points, hitting 8 of 11 from long range. The Bulls wiped out a 17-point halftime deficit even though they held out banged-up core players Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, only to come up short in the closing minutes.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue spent the second half in the locker room with an illness, another hit for an already short-handed team (see full recap).