T.J. McConnell has been here before: fighting for minutes and staying a total professional while doing so.
McConnell’s playing time has taken a hit with the return of Markelle Fultz. Brett Brown had been finding ways to keep McConnell in the rotation because of his proven hustle and familiarity with the system.
On Sunday, though, McConnell’s minutes were cut back to only the final 2:24 of the Sixers' 109-97 win over the Mavericks.
"I’m not going to cry over spilled milk,” McConnell said. “Markelle and Ben (Simmons) are special players and they need to be out there for us to win. I’ve just got to stay ready. If my number’s called, I’ve just got to go out there and be a pro and help this team win.”
McConnell has turned an “underdog” label into a reliable contributor. Brown has learned over the last three seasons what he can count on from McConnell, who he got in the game later than he would have preferred. As the playoffs approach, Brown wants to discover more about the Sixers and Markelle Fultz in his 11th game.
“We’ve got two games left and you want to make sure you feel good about what you want to get done in a playoff rotation-type situation that remains still a little bit of a mystery to us, as it should,” Brown said. “[Fultz] hasn’t played, as we all know, much NBA basketball. So tonight here at home, playing against Dallas, we felt like if we just played defense we were going to be in good shape. I decided to rotate the team for those reasons.”
McConnell could find himself back in the rotation as he had been, or his minutes could be limited in the playoffs. Whatever the scenario, he’s committed to staying a team player. Long before he checked into the game, McConnell was the first one off the bench to high five his teammates during a timeout.
“I just want the guys to know I appreciate what they’re doing out there,” McConnell said. “I’ve just got to stay engaged and give them confidence.”
The Sixers appreciate McConnell too.
"T.J.’s a great teammate," Fultz said. "I think he’s a guy that’s going to push you to do your best, even when he’s not out there. I love that guy to death. He’s still helping us on the sideline. He sees something that we’re doing on the court, he’ll come out and tell you. But his spirits are still high and he’s helping us."