By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
Philadelphia 112, Orlando 111 – Box Score
I understand there’s no Joel Embiid available, but somebody needs to find out why late in games, Brett Brown continues to draw up sets for 29-year-old, soon-to-be free agent Ersan Ilyasova. Always ready and willing to put up shots in a contract year, Ilyasova took a fadeaway baseline 21-footer with the Sixers down 1, still 14 seconds left, and Nik Vucevic draped all over him. He was blocked so badly that the refs had to call a jump ball on the ensuing out-of-bounds, presumably not knowing where Voose’s hand ended and Ersan’s face began.’
Luckily for the Sixers, a plucky young guard out of Western Pennsylvania is around for exactly these sorts of situations. Ersan, to his credit, won the jump ball over to TJ McConnell, who went to work against CJ Watson. Pulling up in for a midrange jumper in the “TJ zone”, McConnell once again came through for the Sixers with a game-winning bucket.
For more on where Timothy John McConnell ranks among the greatest closers throughout history, let’s go to our lead analyst, Joel Embiid:
Ersan was probably feeling big for his britches because with the Sixers down 6 with 2 minutes left, he was fouled on 3 straight possessions, knocking down 5 of 6 from the foul line. A gorgeous feed from McConnell to a cutting Dario Saric completed a 7-0 run to give the Sixers the lead. Vucevic (21 points, 11 rebounds) then scored to put the Magic back in front, setting the stage for TJ’s heroics.
While McConnell had 8 points, 8 assists, and 3 steals, the only reason Philadelphia was even within striking distance late was the outstanding play throughout the evening from Saric. The Homie Dario finished with a career-high 24 points, going 8-15 from the field and 3-5 from three, adding 8 rebounds and 3 steals. Good for Saric for having such a big game against the team that traded him on draft night.
Nights like this when Saric has his shot falling make him so dangerous. He’s always going to bring the scrappy, hustle plays working on the offensive boards and so on, but teams having to respect his outside shot opens up his driving game and forces his defender to overplay. It’s why he was able to beat his man on the cut for the late, go-ahead bucket. Dario will be a useful player no matter what becomes of all the little, less stat-oriented things he does on the court, but the shooting will ultimately be the swing skill that determines his ceiling.
Right before that 7-0 run, Nerlens Noel and Serge Ibaka got tangled up fighting for a rebound, prompting Ibaka to throw a punch as Noel was backing away from the action post-whistle. Noel mostly did a good job keeping his head about him, but the refs for some reason still deemed a double technical necessary. Asked about the punch after the game, Noel said simply, “I don’t play that.”
With the 5-game losing streak now a thing of the past, the Sixers can hopefully build some momentum heading into the All-Star break. They’ll next have the red-hot Miami Heat at home Saturday night. There’s a chance Joel Embiid will be back for that contest. Fingers crossed.