Game Recap | McConnell Triple-Double Helps Spur Win Over Knicks
The New York Knicks had resiliency, but the 76ers had T.J. McConnell.
For the majority of Monday’s Atlantic Division match-up at The Center, the Sixers and Knicks grinded their way through a rivalry game. While the Sixers never trailed, their long-time foe never quite allowed them to get comfortable, either.
Each time the Sixers seemed to be in position to gain separation, the Knicks answered with a defiant response.
At the end of the night, it was the no-quit, Steel City-bred McConnell who was largely responsible for catalyzing another strong finish, as the Sixers fended off New York for a 108-92 victory.
The win was the Sixers’ fourth in a row, keeping them unbeaten on their season-high tying five-game homestand, and 10th straight in South Philadelphia.
The triumph also put the Sixers four games over .500, matching the club's high-water mark of the 2017-2018 campaign. It established a new high win total with Brett Brown at the helm as well (last year’s Sixers won 28 games).
“I think that it means that all of us, we’re heading in the right direction,” said Brown. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves. I think we’re trending in the right way.”
Joining Tony Wroten, Michael Carter-Williams, and current teammate Ben Simmons as the only Sixers in the Brown coaching era to register triple-doubles, McConnell turned in his most well-rounded showing as a pro. Not only did he post 10 points (5-11 fg), 10 rebounds, and 11 assists, he matched a career-high with 6 steals.
After clinching a double-double by nailing a jump shot with 82 seconds left in the fourth quarter, McConnell needed just one more rebound to achieve the heady triple-double milestone. With the center-hung scoreboard of the arena keeping a running total of each player’s statistics, everyone inside the building - from coaches and players to the sold out crowd itself - knew what was at stake in the waning moments of regulation.
So, on the Knicks’ ensuing possession, when New York’s Luke Kornet misfired on a three from the wing, the stands began to buzz with anticipation, and McConnell’s fellow Sixers cleared bodies out of the lane.
There was McConnell, left all alone in the paint to jump up and snag the rebound, which he secured with a firm, confident grip.
The Sixers’ players went wild, as did the rest of the arena.
“Joel [Embiid] just wouldn’t let it go,” said McConnell. “Just after a rebound or an assist, he kept telling me, and then when I had 9 rebounds, he was saying, ‘Get another one.’ Someone went up and blocked out the big guy, and it just kind of fell into my hands. It was like in slow motion.”
In addition to McConnell’s performance, the Sixers got key contributions Monday from several other sources.
Robert Covington provided a vital boost during a stage of the game in which New York had seized momentum. On the heels of a 9-0 run by the Knicks that tied the tilt at 73-73, the longest-tenured Sixer canned a timely triple, then, following a McConnell steal, converted a vicious and-1 dunk.
About a minute later, thanks to another McConnell steal, Covington slammed the ball home again. Covington scored all but two points during this pivotal 10-2 spurt that set the Sixers up to regain control.
Dario Saric had himself a steller evening, pacing the Sixers with 24 points (8-12 fg, 4-6 3fg). JJ Redick chipped in with 18 points (6-11 fg, 3-6 3fg), while Joel Embiid racked up 17 (6-12 fg, 1-2 3fg). The big man hauled in 6 rebounds, too.
Ben Simmons delivered his own diverse box line, with 13 points, 6 boards, 6 dimes, 4 steals, and 3 blocks.
Brett Brown’s affection for and admiration of T.J. McConnell has been well-documented the last three seasons. From the reserve point guard’s upbringing, to his long odds path to the Sixers, to his blue collar style of play, he’s as a relatable a professional athlete as you could find, which is probably a big reason why he resonates so well in a place like the Delaware Valley.
After McConnell manufactured his historic triple-double in Monday’s victory, Brown, who’s always been genuine in his praise of the Arizona product, could only reemphasize what’s been said in the past.
“I just think it’s the thing that endears himself to all of us, you respect him, you really respect him,” Brown told reporters, when asked about McConnell and his journey. “He just plays so hard. He’s a wonderful lesson for so many basketball players in relation to what determination, perseverance, toughness can bring you to. We’ve seen him grow, he continues to get better, and tonight he was incredible.”
McConnell came up particularly big in Monday’s fourth quarter, accounting for 4 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists. The Sixers outscored the Knicks 22-13 in the frame t o ensure their fourth win in a row.
Post-game, McConnell was Monday’s player of honor.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) February 13, 2018
“I just kind of took the shots when they came to me, got some rebounds, and my teammates did a good job of screening, rolling to the basket, and making shots,” the always-deflecting McConnell said. “All credit to them. It wouldn’t be possible without them.
The Sixers have been one of the NBA’s elite defensive teams the entire season, a distinction that’s certainly been reinforced over the course of this current homestand.
Through the first four games in a run of five straight at The Center, the Sixers have generated a defensive rating of 91.4 (1st in the NBA from Feb. 6 through Feb. 13), while holding opponents to 43.5 percent shooting overall (2nd in the NBA from Feb. 6 through Feb. 13) and 33.0 percent from 3-point territory (1st in the NBA from Feb. 6 through Feb. 13).
Brett Brown especially liked how the Sixers defended in Monday’s second half, in which they outdid New York, 51-37. The Knicks managed a mere 12 field goals and just 2 3-pointers between the third and fourth quarters.
“I thought all over the place toward the end, we guarded like we needed to,” said Brown.
Joel Embiid considers defense the most important ingredient to the Sixers’ current winning streak.
“Defense is the key,” said the All-Star. “We started learning how to play with each other.”
Putting Things in Perspective
For T.J. McConnell, there was a brief moment following Monday’s game to reflect on not only how far he’s come since joining the franchise in 2015, but the Sixers collectively as well.
McConnell’s rookie campaign, the team won just 10 times. Last season, the win total jumped to 28. Now, this year, with 28 games to go, the Sixers have already surpassed their 2016-2017 victory mark, earning no. 29 by defeating the Knicks.
“I think some of us have come a long way with the city and the fans,” said McConnell. “Just chipping away last year, and what we’re doing this year, the city’s been supportive through everything, and we all love [the fans] for it.”
Dario Saric, Monday’s top scorer, feels the Sixers are simply tapping into a sports-crazed market’s passionate spirit.
“The Eagles winning and a city with an unbelievable atmosphere helps,” said the Croatian. “When I eat or go into a shop, I can tell the atmosphere is different. Philly has the best fans in all of America. We have a bunch of guys who are ready to play good basketball.”
To the slammer go all the spoils, and then some, in this sequence. Ben Simmons winded up for this vicious dunk midway through Monday’s third quarter, after some persistent efforts from his teammates resulted in him getting the ball.
T E A M W O R K pic.twitter.com/ilXYZoWKoT
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) February 13, 2018
Incredibly, the All-Star break of such a highly-anticipated season for the Sixers is almost here. After facing the Miami Heat Wednesday at home, the Sixers will be on recess until February 22nd, when they visit the Chicago Bulls. It was just 10 days ago that Miami made its first visit of the year to The Center, a game the Sixers won, 103-97. In the time that’s passed, the Heat reacquired Dwyane Wade, who spent the first 13 seasons of his sure-to-be Hall of Fame career with the franchise. As of Monday, only a half game separated Miami from the Sixers for seventh-place in the Eastern Conference standings.