PHILADELPHIA, PA - FEBRUARY 27: T.J. McConnell #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers handles the ball during a game tate Warriors on February 27, 2017 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Seltzer's Notebook | Golden State Sees Promise in Sixers, McConnell-Kerr Connection

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

Warriors Leave Philadelphia Impressed
The Sixers might have come up short Monday in their bid to knock off the NBA’s best team, but they did appear to earn the respect of Golden State, which became the first club this season to reach 50 wins.

Although the Warriors were in control of the scoreboard for most of the contest, the Sixers never really allowed the visitors to get comfortable. Fueled by an energized start, the Sixers mustered a five-point lead in the first quarter, and clawed within a point of Golden State three times in the second frame.

With less than five minutes to go, behind a modest run, the Sixers sliced their deficit to nine. There was no give-up throughout the night.

Afterwards, inside the Warriors’ locker room, a couple of All-Stars praised the efforts of the upstart Sixers.

“We’ve been doing this for a while together now, just try to find ways to get it done,” said Draymond Green, who accounted for 14 points, six rebounds, 11 assists, and five steals. “You have to give [the Sixers] a lot of credit. They’re going to be really, really, really good. I mean, they’re missing [Joel] Embiid and Ben Simmons. They’re really on their way, so you have to give them a lot of credit also.”

The Sixers managed to hold Golden State to just six 3-pointers Monday, which represented the Warriors’ second-lowest total of the season. Golden State began the day averaging 12.3 3-pointers per game, good for the third-highest average in the league.

Steph Curry, the NBA’s most prolific perimeter shooter with 231 treys on the year, was especially off the mark, going 0 for 11 from beyond. He still was able to scrape together 19 points, and saw some promising flashes from the Sixers.

“They play hard,” Curry said. “They have some talent to work around, and hopefully they have some consistency with their roster going forward and getting guys healthy. One thing about them - you’ve got to compliment their energy and effort and fight every night that they play with.”

With the Warriors bringing lenty of success and star power to The Center Monday, there was another sellout crowd on hand. Philadelphia born-and-raised comedian Kevin Hart, who rang bell prior to pre-game introductions, was among the fans in attendance.

On several occasions, he was spotted engaging Green in what appeared to be some light-hearted back-and-forth banter from his courtside seat near the Sixers’ bench.

“It was definitely great energy in this building,” said Green, who was named to his second straight All-Star Game this year. “It definitely makes it fun, a fun environment to play in. It’s one of those games where it gives you a little added motivation when you have guys sitting there talking junk. I think it’s fun for us, fun for them. It’s good to see them drawing crowds like that after the few years they have had. Just putting this franchise back together, it’s amazing to see.”

One Wildcat Admires Another
Before the Sixers and Golden State retreated to their separate locker rooms following Monday’s final horn at The Center, T.J. McConnell and Steve Kerr spent a few moments chatting on the court.

The connection between the two? A shared alma mater in the University of Arizona.

McConnell spent the final two seasons of his collegiate career at the school, guiding the Wildcats to back-to-back Elite 8 bids. Kerr played for Arizona under the iconic Lute Olson from 1983 through 1988.

Like McConnell, Kerr was a two-time captain for the program, and led the team to multiple NCAA Tournament berths, including a run to the Final Four during a senior campaign that saw him connect on over 57.0 percent of his 3-point attempts.

“I basically still watch Arizona games, and still have a great connection to the school and to the program, so the guys who are in the league from Arizona, I tend to keep an eye on a little bit more,” said Kerr. “What stands out with T.J. is that he was the one guy from his senior season at Arizona that wasn’t supposed to make the NBA, and he’s turned out to be not only an NBA player, but a really good one. He’s starting, and being very productive.”

McConnell went undrafted in 2015. Arizona’s roster earlier that year consisted of future first-round selections Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The previous season, Aaron Gordon was on the roster.

In his second professional season, McConnell has seized the reigns of the Sixers’ point guard rotation. He took over as the club’s full-time starter at the turn of the calendar year, and in that role has since compiled a 15-13 record. The Pittsburgh native closed out the month of February averaging 6.3 points, 6.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds, and 1.5 steals in 25.0 minutes per game.

“I don't have his number, I don’t text him,” McConnell said Monday, when asked about the relationship he’s developed with Kerr. “When I see him, we definitely talk. Same with [Lakers head coach and fellow Arizona product] Luke Walton. Every time we play against each other, we’re always talking.”

And so McConnell and Kerr did again Monday.

“I always identify with the guys who have to scrap and claw, and maybe weren’t drafted and weren’t first-round picks,” said Kerr, himself a late second-round pick of Phoenix in 1988.
He said he quietly roots for players like McConnell.

“Love watching him play,” said Kerr. “He’s got great energy, tenacity, smart, distributes the ball. He’s become a really good player.”

Brown Continues to See Bright Future
Monday’s hard-fought loss to Golden State brought with it the Sixers’ final game in February, a month that annually features a lighter schedule due to the NBA All-Star break.

Four weeks ago, on the heels of an uplifting 10-5 showing in January, the Sixers were in the midst of a bumpy stretch. Between a lengthy road trek, and a home date with the always-tough San Antonio Spurs, Brett Brown’s squad dropped five consecutive consecutive contests.

A February 9th trip to Orlando, which fell on the second day of a back-to-back, no less, triggered a turnaround. The Sixers prevailed in a one-point victory that night, and won their next two times out as well, setting up a strong finishing kick to the month.

In all, the Sixers wrapped up February with triumphs in four of their final seven outings. The three losses during this stretch came against Boston (currently the two-seed in the Eastern Conference), New York (which snuck out a last-second victory at the Garden this past weekend), and Golden State (the NBA’s top team, based on record).

Brown, as he did at the end of January, continues to project optimism, point to signs of progress, and identify reasons for hope.

“Not once, and I mean this, not once have the people that I have worked with not seen the future more to make decisions than what’s going on at the moment,” Brown said Monday. “I think that when you look at it and you feel the responsibility to the city - how do you really build this? And there’s massive amounts of pain that come along with that. In different weak moments, you get a little bit frustrated.”

But, as Brown went on to say, not dispirited.

“I’m fine. I really believe in what we’re doing. The more this thing shakes out and plays out, I believe it more and more. I think we’re starting to build a culture, and we’re starting to build an attitude and system behind the scenes that can absorb talent, that can absorb high draft picks. That to me is what’s most important.”