By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Philadelphia 98, New York 97 – Box Score
These are the games the Sixers never win. The Knicks led Wednesday night’s game by as many as 17 points; since the start of last season, the Sixers were 0-71 when trailing by 15 or more points in a game. But you know who doesn’t care about your stats? Timothy John McConnell.
After supposed basketball unicorn Kristaps Porzingis airballed a wide-open three in the closing seconds, the Sixers charged downcourt frantically, trailing by one and opting not to call a timeout. Surprisingly, both Gerald Henderson and Ersan Ilyasova passed up a chance to be a hero, and the ball found McConnell. TJ, finding himself between future Hall-of-Famer Carmelo Anthony and global sensation Porzingis, stepped back and nailed the turnaround jumper at the buzzer. The ensuing celebration was straight out of Philadelphia sports movie, complete with the leaping fist pump.
The Sixers are now 5-1 with TJ as a starter this season, with the lone loss a last-minute defeat to Boston. A lot of that stretch coincides with the last week or two with the Sixers giving Jahlil Okafor a DNP-CD and playing the full 48 minutes with either Joel Embiid or Nerlens Noel at center. Still, there’s no denying McConnell is playing good ball. He’s easily the team’s best defensive option at point guard, and provides a stabilizing hand on running the offense and getting others involved.
His Wednesday line of 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists is more quietly effective than flashy, but hopefully his clutch shot shines some light on just how well he’s been playing. Joel Embiid certainly is happy to have TJ around.
Speaking of Embiid, the battle between he and fellow young big man Porzingis was a clear victory for JoJo. With the Knicks up 10 with 2 and a half minutes remaining, Embiid scored 8 points down the stretch, starting with this basically unstoppable crossover to Eurostep that drew an and-one.
Embiid had a final line of 21 points and a career-high 14 rebounds in 27 minutes, compared to Porzingis who went for just 7 points and 3 rebounds in 28 minutes. KP may have had a couple GIF-able moments, blocking one Embiid jumper and standing strong at the rim as Embiid’s dunk attempt clanged over the front rim, but this was a clear win for JoJo both in the hearts of viewers and on the scoreboard.
Philadelphia has now won 4 of its last 5 games, something it had not accomplished since 2013. If this keeps up, we’re going to have to do more than chuckle when Embiid brings up playoffs. Regardless, he’s playing out of his mind, role players like Robert Covington and TJ McConnell have stepped up in the clutch recently, and Ben Simmons will be back before you know it. Make sure you’re sprawled out comfortably on the Sixers bandwagon because it’s about to get much more crowded.
Other Game Notes:
- Carmelo Anthony scored a game-high 28 points, but needed 25 shots to get there and didn’t have a field goal in the last 13:29.
- Derrick Rose scored 25 points on 11-16 shooting after not showing up for the Knicks game Monday and not even letting him know where he was or what was going on. He pulled out some vintage MVP-Rose moves, including one where he went up-and-under to the reverse side of the basket to finish at the rim against Embiid. But these types of games are too few and far between for a guy who laughably said he’s seeking a max contract after the season.
- Ersan Ilyasova tallied 16 points on 5-16 shooting. I’m really tired of a guy of him finishing first or second on the team in field goal attempts every game, especially now that his shooting has regressed after a white-hot start with the Sixers. Ilyasova is gunning in a contract year and I hope Bryan Colangelo isn’t foolish enough to overpay him this summer.
- Nerlens Noel was excellent again with 13 points and 8 rebounds in just 21 minutes off the bench. Nothing more needs to be said about the whole Noel vs. Okafor ordeal. Management has nowhere to hide considering Noel is not only playing better than Jahlil ever has, but the team is winning games with its new rotation.