In Review | On Shorthanded Night, Backcourt Leads Balanced Team Effort
PHILADELPHIA, PA - Even though the 76ers knew they wouldn’t have their second-leading scorer and top assist man available for the team’s first game back from a two-day Thanksgiving break, Brett Brown made one thing very clear:
In no way, shape, or form were the Sixers going to deviate from their normal style of play. They were still going to do what they do - place a premium on defense, pace, and shooting threes.
The formula yielded mostly positive returns for the Sixers in 17 games played with Ben Simmons, and it served the squad well once again on Saturday, the Sixers’ first contest of the year without the dynamic rookie (left elbow swelling).
Thanks to Simmons’ fill-in keying a potent offensive display, and the rest of the club - especially the starters - stepping up as well, the Sixers powered their way to a 130-111 victory over the Orlando Magic.
The Sixers’ output marked their largest in a game, regulation or overtime, in the Brown coaching era, which began in 2013-2014. It was the franchise’s most explosive outing overall since a 141-127 overtime win versus the New York Knicks on October 31st, 2009, and most prolific total in a four-quarter affair since an April 12th, 1994 134-107 win at the Detroit Pistons.
While the Sixers benefited from several standout individual performances Saturday, the triumph - their third in a row at home by at least 19 points for the first time since 1981 - represented a complete team effort, and reflected promising collective growth.
“I respect the work that they’ve put in,” Brown said of his players. “There are lots of people in that locker room who are getting better, and are playing certainly better together as a team.”
T.J. McConnell chief among them. Behind 15 points (7-12 fg, 1-1 3fg), 13 assists, and 7 rebounds in his first starting point guard assignment of the fall, he generated the sixth double-double of his three-year career.
JJ Redick, meanwhile, lived in the realm of the unconscious for most of Saturday’s game. He burst for 29 points, drilling 8 of his 12 3-point tries.
Despite battling a cold that forced him to miss morning shootaround, Joel Embiid tallied 18 points (7-17 fg), 14 rebounds, and 6 assists for his ninth double-double.
“It shows how many good players we have,” said McConnell of the Sixers’ balanced box score.
With his parents sitting courtside, the 25-year old McConnell, Simmons’ back-up this campaign, whipped together a final line the likes of which many fans have quickly come to expect from the Sixers’ leading point man himself. In addition to the well-rounded point, assist, and rebound totals, McConnell committed just 1 turnover in nearly 37 minutes, his longest run dating back to March of last season, during a three-month stint atop the Sixers’ depth chart.
Brown expected McConnell to have a “hell of a game,” and he did.
“When I learned that Ben was not going to play, you start reshuffling the deck of what does that mean structurally - offense, defense, substitution patterns,” said Brown. “There was a comfort level that I had because [McConnell] held that position the large majority of last year. He had been there and done that.”
And just like that, when summoned into extended duty Saturday, McConnell jumped right back in the saddle, and did it again, almost instantaneously.
By the end of the first quarter, while steadying the Sixers as they mounted a 31-28 lead, McConnell had handed out 5 assists. That figure reached 9 dimes by intermission, when the Sixers were ahead, 70-55.
Once the final horn had sounded Saturday at The Center (where the Sixers sold out the arena for the eighth time in as many tries), McConnell had delivered helpers to 6 of the 9 players Brown used in the game.
“The confidence level I had in him because of last year’s experience together was important, and it was real,” Brown said. “Tonight, he was exceptional.”
For McConnell, his mindset was the same as it ever was.
“I didn’t really think about it,” said the Pittsburgh native, when asked about the approach he took to his increased role. “I just went in there and played. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing since I’ve been here.”
Something JJ Redick has done since joining the Sixers this summer is embody the spirit of an exemplary professional. In addition to bringing an invaluable veteran presence to the roster, the 13-year shooting guard has contributed at an elite level, too, just as he pledged to do upon signing in July.
The latest case in point surfaced with three minutes to go in Saturday’s second period. Redick flat out entered a zone.
First came a catch-and-shoot three set-up by a terrific ball-fake, making the score 57-45. Moments later, he went back to nearly the exact same move, 62-53.
Redick then swished home a transition trey to widen the gap to 65-53, before using an Amir Johnson screen for a top-of-the-arc 3-pointer that upped the lead to 68-53, which represented the Sixers’ biggest margin of the opening stanza.
Redick’s 6 first-half 3-point field goals were a new record for The Center.
“I kind of blacked out there in the second quarter,” Redick told reporters. “I feel like when you hit a couple shots in a row, the ball is like a magnet, and your teammates are looking for you.”
McConnell and Redick were particularly in sync. Of McConnell’s 13 assists, five went to Redick.
“T.J. played well,” said Redick. “For me, especially, he was great. He was constantly seeking me out, and trying to get guys to screen for me, by playing dribble-handoff action. That was huge.”
“They both have high motors,” noted Brown, who’s of the belief that McConnell and Redick are forming a “real partnership.”
While the Sixers led by double-digits for most of Saturday’s second half, they didn’t seize control of Saturday’s bout until the outset of the second frame. That was when Embiid was at his most dominant.
With his legs back under him, the big man sunk his first five shots of the quarter, after beginning the game 1 for 5 from the field. He would manufacture 12 of his 18 points in the second.
“I just want to be on the court,” Embiid said. “I pushed through, and we got a win.”
Not to be overlooked were a handful of other influential efforts Saturday. Dario Saric fought his way to 21 points (8-13 fg, 1-4 3fg), 7 rebounds, and 4 assists, while Robert Covington and Jerryd Bayless chipped in with 15 points apiece.
On a shorthanded night, not only did the Sixers’ depth of talent leave a lasting impression, so too did their commitment to a system that’s been gradually taking root the past few years.
“I think we’ve created an identity,” said Embiid. “We know who we are. Guys stepped up...and we got the win.”
As Brown said, regardless of which players were at his disposal, the Sixers were going to do it their way. Saturday, it was more than enough.
Yes, they do, and JJ Redick supplied plenty of them Saturday, particularly down the stretch of the second quarter. The former Magic shooting guard’s 6 first-half triples set a building record at The Center.
Everybody loves threes. pic.twitter.com/nMl2bJd5W1
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) November 26, 2017
For the first time this season, the King and Company are coming to South Philadelphia, with the three-time defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers visiting The Center Monday evening. Following a somewhat eyebrow-raising 5-7 start to the year, the Cavs have gotten untracked, winning seven straight contests. Cleveland’s last time out, a 100-99 victory Friday over Charlotte, LeBron James led the way with 27 points, 16 rebounds, and 13 assists.