t.j. mcconnell

In a shootout, Ben Simmons comes up with huge defensive plays to seal Sixers' win over Pacers

In a shootout, Ben Simmons comes up with huge defensive plays to seal Sixers' win over Pacers

BOX SCORE

This had the makings of a low-scoring affair between two of the best defensive teams in the league.

Instead, we got a thrilling shootout, as the Sixers outlasted the Pacers in a 119-116 win at the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night.

Ben Simmons' picked off an errant pass from T.J. Warren, led the fast break and dished it to Tobias Harris for a dunk to put the Sixers up 115-114 with 9.9 seconds left. This came after Harris made two costly mistakes — fouling Warren on a three and making a poor entry pass to Joel Embiid.

It was Simmons again who picked off the inbounds pass on the ensuing possession. Harris was fouled with 5.1 seconds left and converted both free throws. With the score at 119-116, it was Simmons yet again who thwarted Indiana's desperation attempt with a steal.

The Sixers stay perfect at home (9-0) and improve to 14-6 overall. They host the Jazz Monday night.

Here are observations from the win.

Attack mode

We all expect Embiid to come out aggressive, and he did so Saturday. Myles Turner was called for two quick fouls. Domantas Sabonis, who plays him tough, isn’t quite strong enough to keep Embiid out of the paint and wound up fouling out with 1:54 left in the game. Indiana started the game by not doubling at all. As it went on, Nate McMillan began to do it more, but not enough as Embiid still finished with 32 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.

It was also a positive sign for the Sixers to see Simmons and Harris attacking the basket, though Simmons didn't shoot particularly well from the field. 

Harris probably had a couple shots that he normally makes not go down early, but he was looking for his own shot. He came up big in the fourth with a couple timely buckets while the offense was stagnant. The pick-and-roll with Embiid is looking like it may be a go-to action for the Sixers. Harris had 14 of his 22 points in the fourth.

As for Simmons, this Pacers team is good but represents a favorable matchup for him with no ideal player to guard him. His finishing at the rim just needs to get better as he went just 4 of 13 from the field. He did have 13 assists.

Both Embiid and Simmons were looking for contact and drawing fouls. They combined to go 11 of 11 from the line in the first half. The difference in the game wound up being free throws, as the Sixers held a sizeable advantage, going 32 of 36 while the Pacers went 21 of 25.

Lots of offense

When the Sixers have played well this season, most of the time it’s because of their defense. In the first half, their offense was humming. They were moving the ball and working it inside-out. As Embiid was getting double teamed, he was doing a decent job recognizing it and his teammates were making the Pacers pay.

The Sixers followed up one their finest quarters of the season in the first — in which they had just one team turnover (a shot clock violation) — with an abysmal second. After the Sixers won the first quarter 38-29, Indiana flipped the script and the teams went into the half tied at 65-65. Both teams shot the ball exceptionally well on the night.

The Pacers ran more pick-and-roll to start the second half and the Sixers didn’t handle it particularly well to start the third. The duo of Malcolm Brogdon and Warren burned them all night as they went for a combined 57 points.

Coming into tonight’s game, these were two of the best defensive teams in the NBA. You wouldn’t have known that for most of this one.

But when it mattered, Simmons came up with two enormous defensive plays to seal the win.

Plenty of whistles

In the first quarter, Brown was hit with a technical after he disagreed with a call on Simmons defending Jeremy Lamb. In the second, Embiid was hit for a Flagrant 1 when he came down hard on Sabonis on a shot attempt underneath. Then in the third, Simmons was hit for a T.

In the case of Embiid’s flagrant, it appeared to be the right call. As for the two techs, the whistles seemed to come awfully quick. Not sure what was said, but obviously the official did not take too kindly to it.

T.J.’s return

T.J. McConnell got a tribute video and got a nice applause from the Wells Fargo Center crowd. When he checked in for the first time in the first quarter, he immediately went over to Brown and gave him a hug.

On the court, it was an interesting matchup between McConnell and one of the players that replaced him, Raul Neto. McConnell had six points and three assists in his return to the Wells Fargo Center.

Ennis appreciation observation

What else can you say about the job James Ennis has done off the bench recently? Coming off a 20-point performance Friday night in New York, Ennis again gave the Sixers excellent minutes. He hit shots, made a couple plays off the dribble and played hard-nosed defense. He was in the game down the stretch along with the regular four starters. This looks like the guy that came up so huge in the Toronto series — maybe even better.

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Memories of lean years, a framed jersey and a tribute video for T.J. McConnell in his return to Philadelphia

Memories of lean years, a framed jersey and a tribute video for T.J. McConnell in his return to Philadelphia

After 314 career games as Sixer, a series of long losing streaks during his early years with the team and an earned reputation as the ultimate hustle player, there was only one way T.J. McConnell was going to be received by fans at Wells Fargo Center when he returned Saturday night as a member of the Indiana Pacers.

McConnell just wouldn’t admit it at his locker before the game.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “Hopefully a lot of cheers. They root for their team hard, so we’ll see.”

The fifth-year point guard was standing in front of a framed Sixers jersey with his name on it. Attached was a signed note from general manager Elton Brand on behalf of the Sixers’ organization thanking McConnell for his contributions in Philadelphia and wishing him and his wife Valerie the best.

And yes, the cheers were loud for an undrafted player who made tirelessly picking up full court one of his signatures.

Brett Brown formed a bond with McConnell during their time together. He recalled recruiting McConnell to join the Sixers and preparing him for all the losses — and the playing time — that was to come during the Process.

“I just loved how hard he played and convinced him, recruited him to be a part of our summer league [team] and so on. When you fast forward to now, what’s this, his fifth year in the NBA? And the history he had here in Philadelphia and just the spirit he played with and lived with, and his personality — he’s good people and he’s tough. It’s a feel-good story and to feel like you were a part of that in some small way, it will be fantastic to see him. He is a winner.”

McConnell’s playing time was sporadic once the Sixers became a more competitive team. He has his limitations as a player, including his lack of size and lack of outside shooting, but Brown wanted to emphasize McConnell’s abilities outside of toughness, locker room presence and the like.

He plays with his heart on his sleeve. This city loves him, he’s Pittsburgh, he’s hard, he’s all that. And then you say, well, s---, he’s pretty good. … It was deeper than he’s just a tremendous glue guy. He actually could play well and I think that we’re all going to see him in the NBA for many, many, many years. Personally, I will look back and be very proud of him for his journey. I have a fondness for that man because of the history that we all spent here in Philadelphia and what we endured together, and what he persevered to find — now seemingly an NBA career.

McConnell shared that fondness for his coach and their time together. He said he talks with Brown occasionally, as well as a few others in the Sixers’ organization.

“I think he nailed it, “McConnell said when told of Brown’s memories. “Starting here, winning 10 games and at the end of my tenure here, you’re one shot away from going to the Eastern Conference Finals. That’s pretty incredible, the journey we went on. He taught me so much about life, and especially basketball.”

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Sixers vs. Pacers: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Pacers: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game


Updated: 5:18 p.m.

T.J. McConnell returns to the Wells Fargo Center as the Sixers (13-6) host the Pacers (12-6) Saturday night.

Josh Richardson (right hamstring tightness) is out, Kyle O’Quinn (left calf strain) is questionable and Al Horford (rest) will return to the lineup. Victor Oladipo remains out as he rehabs from right knee surgery while former Process era Sixer Jakarr Sampson will also miss tonight’s game with lower back tightness.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game:

When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

Back-to-back for Jo

Joel Embiid will play his second straight back-to-back after remarking that load management is “BS” after the team’s win over San Antonio last Friday. Embiid mentioned earlier this season that the goal was to have him play fewer back-to-backs. If you’ll recall, Embiid played in 54 of the first 58 games last season and then battled knee tendinitis throughout the second half and into the playoffs.

It’s a fine line the Sixers are walking. Embiid has said when he doesn’t play for a while, his conditioning goes quickly, and he struggles to find a rhythm. It certainly shows when Embiid is forced to miss a game or two.

With Richardson out, it will be another missed opportunity for the starting five to develop chemistry. They’ve been dominant for most of the season and have the best defensive rating in the NBA (minimum 100 minutes). The offensive chemistry is still a work in progress and Embiid is a huge part of that.

Indiana is also playing a back-to-back, coming off an overtime win over the Hawks Friday night.

The return of Timothy John

McConnell became a fan favorite in Philadelphia and it’s easy to see why. He was the underdog to top all underdogs. He came in as an undrafted free agent during the Process and earned a spot. As the roster improved and the team’s goals became larger, it always seemed like McConnell would be the odd man out. Yet, he always found a way to get himself minutes with his dogged play and fiery personality.

The Pacers gave McConnell a two-year, $7 million deal this offseason and the fifth-year point guard has produced. He’s continued his usually efficient ways, hitting 50.5 percent from the field and 88.9 percent from the line. He’s also averaging 7.1 points and 4.8 assists in just 17.8 minutes a game. Indiana is off to a good start and McConnell is a key contributor.

Don’t sleep on the Pacers

The Pacers are still without their best player in Oladipo and may not be in the same tier talent wise as the Sixers, but this is a damn good basketball team. They’re one of the few teams that will match the Sixers’ size in the frontcourt with the duo of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner.

They also have Malcolm Brogdon, acquired in a sign-and-trade from the Bucks this offseason, playing at a borderline All-Star level. Newcomers T.J. Warren and Jeremy Lamb have added a scoring punch. 

Nate McMillan’s team plays disciplined and tough. They’re sixth in the league in terms of turnover percentage and are right behind the Sixers at fourth in the NBA in defensive rating. This could be a grind-it-out type of game.

Bonus storyline: The Sixers will debut their 2019-20 City Edition jerseys Saturday night.

Philadelphia 76ers

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