In Review | MLK Day Game Marks Noteworthy Win Over Toronto
PHILADELPHIA - You could sense the run was going to come. It was just a matter of whether the 76ers, presented with their latest test to uphold a once-sizable lead, could stop it.
They did, by just enough, and in the end, earned a sought-after victory over the Toronto Raptors, 117-111.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee at The Center was the Sixers’ fifth win in their last six games, got the team back to .500, and gave the group just its second win over Toronto in its past 20 tries.
The outcome also netted the Sixers their 20th win in 40 games, representing the fastest they’ve reached that mark since the lockout-shortened 2012 campaign.
Most importantly, Brett Brown’s club made good on a recent area of focus. Faced with the prospect of a lead slipping away, the Sixers pushed through, despite Toronto giving them a scare.
“We found a way to win,” Brown said.
Joel Embiid paced the Sixers with game-highs of 34 points (11-21 fg, 1-5 3fg, 11-14 ft) and 11 rebounds. The 30-point effort was the big man’s seventh of the season, and first in a month, while the double-double was his 18th of the year.
“We’ve been in this type of position a lot this year,” said Embiid, who, in the final half minute of play, went 4 for 4 from the foul line. “We just had to stay calm, execute, and keep moving the ball, not try to force things.”
T.J. McConnell proved to be Monday’s X-factor. Pressed into extended minutes as a result of Ben Simmons’ early foul trouble, the spunky back-up point guard rose to the occasion, posting a career-high 18 points (8-13 fg).
In one of his biggest plays of the day, McConnell hit Robert Covington with a 75-foot long baseball toss down the court for a pivotal lay-up. The connection, with 75 seconds to go, capped a timely 9-2 spurt in response to Toronto trimming the Sixers’ pad to one, 102-101.
About a minute later, McConnell pried away a steal (one of his three in the game), which eventually set up Embiid for two clutch free throws to make it 115-108.
“T.J. was great,” Brown said.
Coming off a loss to Boston last Thursday in which their 22-point margin disappeared, the Sixers opened Monday’s outing in strong form, building a 59-49 edge by intermission. The gap grew to 21 points late in the third quarter.
Finding its 3-point stroke in the fourth, Toronto charged back, but the Sixers’ steadiness from the stripe steered them home.
“It’s stuff that we just got to get older and keep pushing forward,” said Brown. “It’s growing a bunch of young guys, and it’s part of the challenge.”
McConnell's Big Day
With six minutes, 49 seconds left in Monday’s first half, John Goble blew his whistle, and Ben Simmons was assessed his third personal foul, a charge.
Back in came T.J. McConnell, and the reserve point guard ensured the Sixers didn’t miss a beat. After racking up 5 assists during his first stint on the floor, the reserve point guard added two more to his ledger before the halftime break.
McConnell resurfaced in a key spot down the stretch as well, tallying 7 points between the end of the third and start of the fourth periods.
On the intangible front, the Pittsburgh native showed no back down when challenged by Toronto’s no-nonsense backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. His steely approach contributed the spirited nature of Monday’s divisional clash.
“That’s why the fans of Philadelphia love T.J., that’s why his teammates and coaching staff just have a tremendous amount of respect for him,” said Brett Brown.
“I think when each team plays each other, it’s a fight every time,” said McConnell. “I wasn’t surprised how the game was.”
At various moments Monday, McConnell received loud ovations from the sellout crowd of 20,637 upon entering the game.
“He plays with great energy, he’s a lightning rod for us, and we needed him to be that,” Brown said. “He’s a lot of fun to watch, and he sure brings a competitive spirit to everything we do.”
In addition to his personal-best 18 points on 8-13 shooting, McConnell rounded out his box line with 6 boards and 8 helpers.
“He’s a great piece,” Joel Embiid said. “He helped us a lot.”
Deep Catches Embiid’s Priority
Looking back on Thursday’s loss in London, both Joel Embiid and Brett Brown felt that more could have been done to get the 7-footer into a better rhythm.
So, heading into Monday’s match-up with Toronto, that was the mission.
Early on, it was clear Embiid was poised for an active, impactful performance. He nailed a pair of mid-range jump shots within the first three minutes, followed by powerful inside baskets on consecutive possessions.
Before receiving his first breather with roughly five minutes left in the first quarter, Embiid also drained a 3-pointer, en route to subbing out with a dozen points. He had tallied 18 points by halftime, and 34 by day’s end.
More than anything else, Brown seemed to like where Embiid was scoring. “Get deep catches” were the marching orders to the All-Star hopeful.
Embiid delivered. Seven of his 11 field goals came within 10 feet of the rim, and he got to the free throw frequently, especially in crunch time.
“I think it was more about the way the offense was set up,” Embiid said. “After the Boston game, I felt like I was probing around the perimeter too much. I talked to Coach about it, and we changed the game plan. Today, I felt like I was more of an inside presence.”
“I thought he was great,” said Brown. “We’re going to see more and more of that with Joel as his fitness base grows.”
Honoring a Legacy
For the 19th straight season, the Sixers helped the NBA honor the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., by playing on the holiday dedicated to the remembrance of his birthday.
Prior to the start of Monday’s tilt, Brett Brown said the team planned to have a pre-game locker room discussion about the significance of the civil rights leader.
— Brian Seltzer (@brianseltzer) January 15, 2018
This year was the first time since 2013 that the Sixers hosted an MLK Day game.
“We’re proud to play on this day,” said Brown.
Pressed into extended relief throughout Monday’s first half, T.J. McConnell made the most of his minutes. The sequence below, highlighted by the third-year point guard’s active hands and vision, sent the Sixers into intermission with momentum and control of the score on their side.
TJ with the INT, RoCo with the slam. pic.twitter.com/IvbZKwmo3F
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 15, 2018
A week after battling the Boston Celtics abroad as part of the NBA London Game, the Sixers will square off with their longtime nemesis for the fourth and final time this season Thursday at TD Garden. The contest will be carried by TNT. In three prior meetings with the Cs this season, JJ Redick has paced the Sixers with an average of 19.3 points per game, while going a stellar 13 of 22 from beyond the arc.