T.J. McConnell

T.J. McConnell recalls how Brad Stevens, Celtics embarrassed him in NBA debut

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T.J. McConnell recalls how Brad Stevens, Celtics embarrassed him in NBA debut

Life as a rookie in any professional sports league is going to come with its bumps along the way. Opposing players and coaches can sense blood in the water, and they'll go after the inexperienced player until they prove they can handle it.

That's exactly what happened to 76ers guard T.J. McConnell, who made his debut against the Celtics in October 2015. McConnell relayed how Brad Stevens and the Celtics attacked him right from the get-go in an appearance on the "Woj Pod" with ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

"It was one of the most embarassing moments of my life, and one of those gut-check moments where Isaiah Thomas, in my opinion one of the most unguardable guys that I've played against, and you got a coach like Brad Stevens — they called a play as soon as I checked in and Isaiah came off, scored. I come back down, Boston brings the ball back down, I look over at Brad [Stevens] and he goes ‘Again.’

"And Isaiah gets someone a lob. We go back down, don’t score and I look over at Brad and he goes ‘Again.’ I'm like 'Oh, my goodness gracious.' And Isaiah scores again.

"I think I got subbed out after that and I was like ‘Welcome to the NBA.’"

Thomas saw Woj's tweet about McConnell's story and had some kind words for the Sixers guard, treating him way better on Twitter than he did on the court that night at the TD Garden.

McConnell scored just four points in that debut game, a 112-95 Celtics victory, and it kicked off a pretty brutal stretch to kick off his NBA career. Philadelphia started that 2015-16 season with 18 straight losses, and hit Christmas with a ludicrous 1-30 record.

Now McConnell is the last remaining member of that squad, which ended the season with a 10-72 mark, and he's enjoying playing for one of the top teams in the East. But he won't forget that debut appearance when Stevens and Thomas left a lasting memory by torching the rook.

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Celtics come home focused on finishing Sixers

Celtics come home focused on finishing Sixers

PHILADELPHIA – Despite dropping Game 4 Monday night, the Celtics return home feeling good about the trip as a whole.

That’s because, despite the loss, the Celtics still have a firm grip on this series up 3-1 in the series rather than it being tied at two games apiece.

“We knew what kind of game this was going to be coming into this game,” said Marcus Smart. “We knew that they weren’t going to let us sweep them. We knew we were going to have to battle; we knew it. We did our job. We got one. Now, it’s back to the crib!”

Boston will have a second crack at closing this series out on Wednesday night and moving on to the Eastern Conference finals for the second consecutive season to face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

There was no mistaking the disappointment among the Celtics, well aware that a golden opportunity to get a couple more days of rest before the next series was there for the taking.

But really, has anything come easily to this team this season?

That said, it only makes sense and keeps true to the season narrative that the path towards basketball success is anything but a smooth one for Brad Stevens and his players.

“Things didn't go our way this game and we are not going to complain. We're not going to make excuses for it,” said Jaylen Brown. “It was unfortunate, but we are going to come out Game 5 and do what we have to do.”

And that is...

“Finish the game,” Brown said. “Finish the game. Get it done. Advance and do what we were supposed to do.”

Here are five takeaways from the 103-92 Game 4 loss to the 76ers:

T.J. McCONNELL


He had been the plus/minus darling of the Sixers through the first three games, so it made a lot of sense to get him on the floor with their season on the line. McConnell delivered a career-high 19 points, but don’t expect the Celtics to overreact to his strong Game 4 performance. He’ll likely get a little more attention from the Celtics defenders – namely Smart – in Game 5.

FOUL MOOD


Brad Stevens did his part to not complain about the officiating in Game 4, but there’s no getting around its impact on the game. Jayson Tatum wasn’t nearly as aggressive defensively as we’ve seen in the past and that had a lot to do with trying to avoid fouling out. In the second quarter alone, there were 13 foul calls made by the officials – 12 against the Celtics. I hate the whole referees-are-trying-to-cheat-us mentality that permeates among all fan bases. Still, at a minimum, the Celtics have to do a better job at defending without fouling so much.

THE LEGEND OF TATUM


With each playoff game, Tatum’s assault on the Celtics rookie record book continues. He drained a late 3-pointer that left his scoring line at 20 points. He has now scored at least 20 in six consecutive playoff games, extending his franchise record. 

LOST COMPOSURE


The Celtics have been one of the more unflappable teams in the NBA, but Boston lost more than a game on Monday. For the first time in a long time, they unraveled before our very eyes. There was Tatum and the frequent shoulder shrugs after driving to the basket, getting knocked to the ground and no call was made. Both Brown and Stevens were whistled for technical fouls after voicing their disagreement with some of the calls made.

CHIPPY PLAY


Joel Embiid and Terry Rozier had an on-the-floor run-in that, at a minimum, will result in fans at the TD Garden booing Embiid every time he touches the ball in Game 5. Embiid also exchanged some verbal barbs with Marcus Morris, who reminded Embiid on more than one occasion that, at that time, Boston had a 3-0 series lead.

Morris acknowledged he was surprised to hear Embiid chirping considering where the series stood at the time they were jawing with one another.

“That’s reality,” Morris said when asked about flashing the 3-0 sign with his fingers to Embiid. “It’s hard. I know I wouldn’t say a damn word if I was down 3-1 but hey, we all different. It is what it is.”

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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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