Celtics

76ers' T.J. McConnell stuns Celtics with efficient, productive performance

76ers' T.J. McConnell stuns Celtics with efficient, productive performance

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.

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“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.

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“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.”

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Austin Ainge on confidence of Celtics heading into the season

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Austin Ainge on confidence of Celtics heading into the season

Austin Ainge talks with A. Sherrod Blakely about the confidence the Celtics have heading into the 2018 season, and we discuss what team we think Jimmy Butler will end up on. 

(2:00) Does Jimmy Butler wanting out of Minnesota make him look bad? (6:00) What team does Jimmy Butler end up with?

(11:00) Breaking down ESPN top 100 NBA players list, did they rank the Celtics correctly? (15:00) Would you rather have Jimmy Butler or Gordon Hayward?

(17:00) A. Sherrod Blakely talks with Celtics Director of Player Personnel Austin Ainge.

(17:30) How does Austin think Kyrie irving and Gordon Hayward will fit back in on the Celtics?

(25:00) How important was getting Marcus Smart back with the Celtics? 

(28:00) What are the Celtics thoughts on the 2019 draft?

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What are some key intangibles to the Celtics having a great season?

What are some key intangibles to the Celtics having a great season?

BOSTON – Winning in the NBA is about more than just having better players or an awesome coach. There are factors that come into play, like scheduling, unexpected injuries by an opponent, or even a leaky roof.

All those factors fall under the category of intangibles, which for most of the top teams, aids them in their quest towards success.

The Celtics have a roster that on paper ranks among the NBA’s best. Still, for them to sustain the kind of success they're pursuing all season, they’ll need some other things to work out. 

So, what are some of those intangibles?

COACHING CONTINUITY

Former Celtics player, assistant coach and fan favorite Walter McCarty left the team last season to become head coach of his hometown’s college team, the University of Evansville. The rest of the coaching crew remains intact this season. Having that familiarity on the sidelines is a bigger deal than most people might think. Head coach Brad Stevens doesn’t have to worry about egos or how folks will mesh together among his staff. They’ve been around each other long enough to know how to work well, and effectively, with one another. Team harmony among coaching staff can only help foster a similar culture inside the locker room.

STABLE FRONT OFFICE

This too is one of the more overlooked aspects of the Celtics success, a franchise that on the basketball side of things has been run by Danny Ainge since 2003. His right-hand man, Mike Zarren, has done an exceptional job of maintaining the team’s salary cap flexibility and remains one of the more highly regarded NBA execs out there. The stability of those positions takes away some of the uncertainty that agents and players might have about the franchise and, more specifically, how they will be treated if they become Celtics.

NEW PRACTICE FACILITY

The team’s new facility in Brighton, The Auerbach Center, won’t win them a single game. But there’s something about having a building that’s yours and yours alone, which is different than what they had in Waltham, Mass, in where their practice court was inside the Boston Sports Club. It breeds a greater sense of pride and ownership, two character traits you can’t have enough of in the NBA.  

NO LEBRON JAMES

They will still see him twice a year, but that’s so much better than four times a year plus the playoffs. Of course, Boston will still have to show up and handle their business against the teams in the East, and the NBA for that matter. But to know that their journey towards competing for an NBA title won’t have to involve dealing with James – his Cleveland team have eliminated Boston in the postseason three of the past four years – is a good thing for Green Teamers.

FAN BASE

Win or lose, blowout win or beatdown loss, Celtics fans support this team in a way that has no end in sight. Crowds don’t take shots (on the court ones, at least). They don’t grab rebounds, either. But they can motivate and inspire players in ways that no amount of X’s and O’s can top. We have seen this team tap into that energy from time to time. And while it appears on paper they won’t need to as much this year, knowing that their fans have that to offer is reassuring to a team that so many fans – not just their own, either – expect to make a deep postseason journey that takes them back to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2012.

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