I saved those images early since it seemed like the T.J. McConnell/DeMar DeRozan standoff may be the game’s most notable moment. It wasn’t. In classic Sixers fashion, they nearly blew an 18-point fourth-quarter lead. In non-Sixers fashion, they escaped with the win.
It wasn’t pretty. Even before Ben Simmons and Kyle Lowry were both ejected with 6.5 seconds left in the game, the Sixers had spent the better part of the fourth quarter trying to hand the Raptors the game. They turned the ball over twice in the first quarter, and then 18 more times for the rest of the game. Though the Raptors missed their first 11 three point attempts, they went 9-21 the rest of the way, finishing with a better 3PT% than the Sixers. The Sixers did have 9 blocks (3 from Trevor Booker in 14 minutes before fouling out, 2 from Ben Simmons) to Toronto’s 1.
Out of the gate, it became obvious that the Sixers’ gameplan was the same as their All-Star Vote marketing plan: The Ben and Jo Show. Embiid and Simmons combined for all 20 of the Sixers’ first points, before Simmons had to spend the entire 2nd quarter on the bench due to early foul trouble. Simmons ended with 12 points on 50% from the floor in 27 minutes.
Embiid was the offense’s focal point for a majority of the game, and ended with 34 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, and a chase-down block that almost killed Fred Vanvleet. He had 7 of his and Simmons’ combined 13 turnovers.
But with Simmons in what Marc Zumoff likes to call “cold storage” for most of the game, the player who truly shined was T.J. McConnell. The #GritGod was out in full force, posting a career-high in points (18), while adding 8 assists and 6 rebounds, to go with a block and three steals. He shot 8 for 13 from the floor and had only 2 turnovers. At times it looked like the Sixers were actually trying to give the game away, and without T.J., it definitely would have happened.
A late game steal by T.J. would have sealed the whole game if it wasn’t for a very excited Robert Covington attempting a shot instead of dribbling out to seal it up. Then Simmons stole the ball again, passed it to Covington, again, who passed it back to Simmons for a missed dunk. It all ended with Joel Embiid free throws. Thankfully, those mistakes didn’t come back to bite the Sixers, and they close their four-game series with the Raptors on the season with their first win.
The back-up-to .500 Sixers next face the Celtics in Boston, Thursday on TNT.