In Review | Embiid, Redick Big in Christmas Win, as McConnell Fuels Holiday Spirit
NEW YORK, NY - Given the day and the circumstances, we know this theme is probably about as easy and cliched to use as any out there, but we’re going with it anyway.
The 76ers took the floor for Monday’s Christmas matinee at Madison Square Garden very much looking for full health, and a win to go along with it. Both wishes were fulfilled, as the team celebrated the holiday with a 105-98 victory over Atlantic Division rival the New York Knicks.
The win snapped the Sixers’ five-game losing streak, and marked their first Christmas Day win since 1988, when they beat Washington at the old Spectrum.
Looking much more like himself, Joel Embiid was a force, finishing with 25 points (8-17 fg, 2-3 3fg), 16 rebounds, and 3 blocks. JJ Redick, who was sidelined the Sixers’ previous two games with right hamstring tightness, was back, and brought with him a helpful balance to the court. Now a veteran of eight Christmas appearances, the guard tallied 24 points (6-10 fg, 4-8 3fg), and hit a key 3-pointer with three and a half minutes to go in the fourth quarter to put the Sixers in front by 7 points, 96-89.
The positive ripple effects that both players generated were plain for all to see.
“I love our guys, they fight” Brett Brown said afterwards. “But you bring in Jo and JJ, and the fight goes to a higher level, and gives us more of a chance. Fans see it, and our team sees it.”
For Embiid, Monday’s outcome was a perfect way to cap his first career game at the famed venue.
“It was fun,” he said. “When I play on the road, I love putting on a show, and I feel like we had a lot of fun. We played OK, but we can play much better, and we got the win.”
In terms of one-on-one match-ups, none was bigger Monday - literally and qualitatively - than Embiid’s battle with fellow five-man Enes Kanter. The 6-foot-11, 245-pounder was a powerful interior presence, closing the day with a season-high 31 points (12-21 fg), and career-high tying 22 rebounds, half of which came on the offensive glass.
Embiid, however, had the last laugh, nailing a pivotal corner three off a set in-bounds play with just over two minutes to play, making it 101-93. It was Redick’s pick, on the much taller Kanter, no less, that sprung Embiid free.
“We were on a losing streak,” said Redick, whose scoring output represented a new personal best in Christmas Day contests. “We realized we are at a breaking point in the season. We had to play with more urgency. Today, our energy was at a different level.”
On an afternoon that Brown was seeking a spirited showing from his group perhaps almost as much as a win, T.J. McConnell responded in on-brand fashion. He provided a season-high tying 15 points off the bench, including a string of 8 in a row to close the third quarter. The spurt, which culminated with a triple, gave the Sixers control heading into the fourth.
“I think he was the MVP of the game,” said Brown, his smile wide when discussing McConnell’s impact. “He played today. His spirit was awesome.”
“I just wanted to give us a spark,” McConnell said. “I appreciate the [game M.V.P.] compliment, but I’m just trying to do my job.”
One of the most important of McConnell’s many contributions Monday surfaced in the waning moments of regulation. The Sixers’ margin stood at six, 101-95, and the Knicks had the ball, their home arena stirring, clamoring for a comeback.
McConnell got caught on a defensive switch that left him by his lonesome on 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis, a near 25-point per game scorer. The 6-foot-2 McConnell showed no back down, keeping Porzingis in front of him long enough for Dario Saric to bolt over and help.
Double-teamed, Porzingis attempted a cross-court pass, but Ben Simmons intercepted the ball, raced the other way, and powered home a two-handed dunk. The conversion left little doubt about how Monday’s affair would end.
“T.J. was great,” said Simmons, who accounted for 8 points (4-8 fg), 8 boards, and 3 assists. “He came up and gave us a lot of energy. He was dominating in a lot of ways on the floor.”
“I think all of us picked it up a bit in the third and fourth quarter,” McConnell said.
Beneficial to the Sixers Monday was that relative to recent games, they kept their turnovers down. After yielding five giveaways in the first quarter, they committed only five more until there were two minutes left on the clock. Then, they surrendered their final five of the day. Still, Brown was generally pleased. He also thought the Sixers’ defensive effort was worth highlighting.
“I thought our team’s defense won us the game,” he said.
The Sixers held New York to 40.4 percent shooting overall, 4 for 15 from outside the arc, and prevailed on the defensive glass, 36-27. Relying primarily on the combination of Simmons, Saric, and Robert Covington, the Sixers kept Porzingis in check as well. He went 6 of 19 from the field.
Among the 3 blocks Joel Embiid posted in Monday’s first half, this emphatic swat of Frank Ntilikina was unquestionably the big man’s most emphatic.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) December 25, 2017
For the second and final time this season, the Sixers venture to the opposite side of the country, where Thursday in Portland they’ll begin a string of 3 straight game versus Western Conference opponents. Earlier this year, on Thanksgiving eve, the Sixers knocked off the Trail Blazers convincingly at The Center, 101-81. Joel Embiid accounted for 28 points and 12 rebounds, while Robert Covington was a major part of a defensive effort that limited C.J. McCollum to 5 points on an uncharacteristic 1 for 14 shooting performance.