Last night’s game became a movie in its final minutes. While the 76ers were firmly ahead of the Knicks, drama unfolded in another way as a triple-double alert was raised. Yet, it wasn’t Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid or Dario Saric, the three young stars, that were the subject to that alert. They were on the sideline cheering on with anticipation. No, it was the embodiment of grit that was on the verge of the accomplishment. When he finally went up and caught the final rebound for the feat, the bench and crowd erupted. Water and chocolate milk (!) baths were going to follow him all the way to the locker room. For a guy that’s worked his tail off to be in the league and has worked harder to stay in it, it’s hard to feel anything but happiness watching him net his first triple double. Congratulations, Timothy John McConnell!
The 76ers came into last night riding a 3 game winning streak, trying to close out an important homestand before heading into the All-Star Break. The team was also gunning for win #29, already netting last year’s win total on Saturday. The Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl victory has injected a ton of energy into this town, fanbase and the other Pro teams. In this post-Eagles Super Bowl Champion era, the 76ers and Flyers are undefeated! Dario Saric even credited the Eagles’ victory as creating a great atmosphere in the city and a reason for the 76ers recent success. Against last night’s opponent, what would be needed to continue the good times?
The New York Knicks are in an unfortunate tailspin highlighted by losing their own young star Kristaps Porzingis to an ACL tear. Without that high end talent, they’re left with a combination of good rotational players and unproven youth, which allows Knicks to stay competitive but ultimately hit a wall. Last night was no different as through three quarters the Knicks took advantage of the 76ers poor turnovers, lazy defense and poor effort plays (the 76ers lacked a 2nd chance attempt until later in the game) to keep the game within arm’s length. Michael Beasley put up 22 points and looked unguardable at junctures. Enes Kanter, despite quick early fouls, ended with 17 points and 13 boards. Courtney Lee put up an efficient 18 points off the bench. The Knicks, however, couldn’t keep up once the fourth quarter hit.
And maybe this is the “new norm” for the 76ers. Even early on, it felt as though the 76ers only needed a C/C+ effort for them to win against the Knicks. It’s weird to think how far we’ve come in just 1-2 years. That fans get frustrated ONLY being up 7 after 3 quarters, after years of hoping they’d keep the game within single digits in a loss, is just remarkable and a real shot of perspective. So while the 76ers gave a D effort going into halftime, they flipped a switch in the 2nd half and put away their opponent in the fourth. Think about it in another way, Joel Embiid only played 23 minutes last night and the 76ers came away with a pretty comfortable win. The organization and fans could get used to this.
Back to the man of the night, TJ McConnell was just unstoppable. I think future/former/always Sixers Chu Chu Maduabum put it best.
I'm convinced tj McConnell hates the knicks— Chukwudiebere M (@ChuChuM14) February 13, 2018
The buzzer beater last year over the Knicks is just another notch in this Knick Killer’s belt. By nights end, McConnell even ended up flirting with a QUADRUPLE Double with 10 points, 10 boards, 11 assists, and 6 steals. Poor Emmanuel Mudiay and Frank Ntilikina had no chance as “Teej” hounded them, literally ripping the ball away a few times. While he may not out-talent or out-athletic many players in this league, there is no question that he will out-work them if they don’t pay attention. The fiery attitude he plays with rubs off on the team, and he’s as much a part of this team’s success as Embiid or Simmons.
Just watching the reaction from the bench to the locker room, this team really rallies behind their own. You can see the amount of fun and enthusiasm they share for one another, something we also saw in the Philadelphia Eagles this past year. While the wins are only just showing up this year, Brett Brown has done a remarkable job keeping the locker room together and fostering a great environment. Now that the talent is beginning to bloom and the results are improving, it’s validation for all the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears that’s gone into the process. THAT is “winning” culture. While Embiid is known as “The Process”, it’s TJ McConnell that really takes on the spirit.
Odds & Ends
- Weird to go through a whole recap and not mention Ben Simmons until now. With 13 points (6-8), 6 Boards, 6 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocks, Simmons continues to put his paws on every aspect of the game to benefit the team. Hard to have expected a rookie to already be the “put on his hard hat and do his thing” kind of player, but here we are. With his physical gifts, there aren’t a lot of players that can stop him from getting his. Noticeably however, when Simmons is paired with Amir Johnson (and Trevor Booker), defenses go out of their way to really pack the paint and go under screens limiting him and the offense as a whole. The spacing issue will continue to be a thing with certain pairings, especially when Brett goes to his bench.
- Hopefully, the addition of another wing shooter will help remedy the above situation. While Marco Belinelli was officially signed in the late evening, he did not log a minute last night. I think it was ambitious to think he’d be plug-and-play, literally within hours of joining the team. We’ll see if he’ll get some run on Wednesday against the Heat, or if Brett will shelf until after the break (and after practicing with the team).
- As mentioned, Joel Embiid only played 23 minutes on the night. It didn’t feel like it but he did end up with 17 points on 12 shots and 6 boards. Embiid vs Kanter was a thing in the first half, and it looked like Kanter was getting his way in the paint. But, in the end, that battle was inconsequential. All things considered, I’ll take more of these “average”, lower-minute nights from Embiid.
- Dario Saric, as has been the case for weeks, was the unsung hero again last night. Leading the team with 24 points (4-6 from 3), he has continued to be whatever the team needs him to be on any given night. The only “complaint” was that he was unable to guard Beasley. But, asking Dario to cover more athletic forwards will always be troublesome. Thankfully, he has a 7’2’’ behemoth behind him.
- I will not stand for Robert Covington slander. People will look to a missed dunk or lay up but then ignore him running back in transition and preventing one the other way. Covington is exactly the same player he was before “he got paid” that he is after. He’s a 3 point shooter, albeit streaky, and a great wing defender (note: this doesn’t mean Revis-Island-Shut-Down-Corner). Last night, he had some nice dunks on top of his all around good play, posterizing Beasley in the process. I never enjoyed listening to people complain about Andre Iguodala especially when most criticism involved his contract. “He thinks he is” so and so player is also an absurdly lazy critique that’s devoid of context or circumstance. Covington nor Iguodala think that they are anyone but themselves (i.e. they don’t think they’re Iverson). Bad shot selection happens, poor plays and mistakes happen. But guys that work their tail off defensively despite struggles shouldn’t be castigated the way some fans do to Cov (and Dre before).
- All that said, Brett should probably stop having Covington throw in-bounds passes. It’s like watching Kirk Coupons!
- Justin Anderson left the game after rolling his ankle on Courtney Lee’s foot while attempting to stop him in transition. While reports are that he’s fine, it’s just a shame that Simba gets dinged up again after spending so much time out with shin splints.
- The only mention of Jerryd Bayless is this sentence. :)
- 76ers player Wednesday against the Heat. PLAYOFF IMPLICATIONS