PHILADELPHIA – The Philadelphia 76ers live to fight another day, and they have T.J. McConnell to thank for it.
McConnell, a last-minute insertion into the lineup ahead of a struggling Robert Covington, had the game of his life in Philly’s 103-92 win that staved off playoff elimination for one more game. He finished with a career-high 19 points on 9-for-12 shooting to go with seven rebounds and five assists.
After the game, Sixers head coach Brett Brown explained why he made the decision to put McConnell into the starting lineup in place of Robert Covington with Philly’s season on the line.
“It’s the way he (McConnell) plays,” Brown said. “It’s an injection of energy that you immediately know you’re going to get with him.”
McConnell’s teammates offered similar praise.
“It is just something not everybody has,” said Philly’s Ben Simmons. “That fire within. He's not the biggest or most athletic guy, but he has an energy that he brings every night and is a huge part of this team. Tonight was a night where he really stepped up. He gave us the energy that everyone else was able to feed off of.”
Indeed, McConnell has been among the leaders in this round of the playoffs when it comes to plus/minus which speaks to the impact his presence has on the team when he’s in the game. But as good as McConnell was in Game 4, that doesn’t change the fact that the Celtics are returning home for Game 5 with a chance to close out this series. The Celtics gave props to McConnell and the Sixers for doing what they had to do to keep their season alive with Monday’s win.
But the Celtics aren’t going to make any radical changes based on Monday night’s outcome. When you start breaking down the statistical data, you can see why. The Sixers shot just 40.4 percent from the field with the Sixers’ Big Three of Joel Embiid, J.J. Redick and Ben Simmons combining to shoot 15-for-41 (36.6 percent). When you look at the numbers, McConnell’s scoring stands out as well as Dario Saric’s 25 points and the 16 offensive rebounds grabbed by the Sixers.
But much of the attention following the game centered around McConnell whose starting assignment was something discussed among the Celtics coaching staff and players as a possibility for Game 4.
“We knew they were probably going to start T.J., brings energy off the bench,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “Creates that spark that they need. That’s what he did.”
Said Terry Rozier on McConnell: “He played very well tonight.”
And as far as adjustments are concerned, Rozier doesn’t anticipate the Celtics will do anything significant other than play with greater effort which was something he acknowledged was lacking in Game 4 and was indeed problematic for them.
“We didn’t match their effort,” Rozier said. “We definitely didn’t. That’s a problem when you don’t match a team like the 76er’s effort.”
And on Monday, that effort was amplified by the play of McConnell.
“He was great,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He was a tough guy. He's a heck of a basketball player, and obviously, we didn't do a great job of defending him and his impact was tremendous.”