T.J. McConnell has established his NBA career with the mentality that every game is an audition. So when he became the first Sixer to record a triple-double off the bench, his modesty was no surprise.
“It was an awesome moment,” McConnell said. “But you’ve got to move on from it.”
This was a game McConnell should pause and take some time to enjoy.
The underdrafted-underdog-turned-feel-good NBA story posted 10 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists and six steals in the Sixers’ 108-92 win over the Knicks on Monday (see observations). He became the 25th player in NBA history to record a triple-double off the bench since 1963-64.
The final piece appropriately seemed the most difficult for the 6-foot-2 backup point guard: the rebound, which he grabbed with 1:05 remaining. McConnell led the Sixers on the boards and had the second most in the game, behind only Knicks 6-foot-11 center Enes Kanter (13).
“Joel (Embiid) just wouldn’t let it go,” McConnell said. “After a rebound or an assist, he kept telling me. When I had nine rebounds, he said go get another one. I just went up, someone blocked out the big guy and it kind of just fell into my hands. It was like it was in slow motion.”
The Sixers’ bench went wild as did the fans. The Wells Fargo Center crowd broke into a “T-J” chant. When McConnell entered the locker room, he was doused in water by his teammates and presented with the ceremonial postgame bell-ringing honors.
“It was amazing,” Embiid said. “I really wanted him to get it. I’m happy for him. I’m glad that he did it. He’s a key piece into our team. Him and Dario (Saric), I think to go where we want to, those two, they’re going to be one of the main reasons.”
McConnell has a knack for knocking down the Knicks. Last January, he drained the game-winner in one of the most memorable moments of the season.
“I’m just trying to play hard,” McConnell said when asked of a possible connection. “You can call it what you want, but just trying to go out there and do my job and help us win any way I can.”
The Sixers will be back to practice on Tuesday. There’s little doubt McConnell will continue his routine of arriving early and staying late. He put on a show in a gutsy performance, but there’s always more work to be done.
“You respect him, you really respect him,” Brett Brown said. “He just plays so hard. He’s a wonderful lesson for so many basketball players in relation to what determination, perseverance, toughness can bring you to. We’ve seen him grow, he continues to get better, and tonight he was incredible.”