EAST SEMIFINALS | SIXERS at CELTICS | GAME 5 | TONIGHT, 8 | TNT
If we didn’t know it before, we know it now. Here we go, Sixers-Celtics edition:
- Brett Brown may be a good coach, but he is a step or five behind Boston’s Brad Stevens.
- The Sixers are skilled, but they lack athleticism by comparison.
- They are quick, but not as quick as the Celtics.
- They are good defensively, but not as good as the Celtics.
- They can be physical, but have yet to be as physical as the Celtics.
- They are deep, but not any deeper than the Celtics – especially with Brown's rotation.
- They have the most dominant player in Joel Embiid.
- They have the most maddening player in Embiid.
- They have the most electrifying talent in Ben Simmons.
- They have the most diffused talent in Simmons.
- They also have the ultimate X-factor.
Yes, indeed, haters of supposed overachievers, white guys projecting their inferiority complex and Charles Barkley, that would be T.J. McConnell.
Frankly, don’t really buy the “playing beyond his means” argument anyway. The dude was the Pennsylvania player of the year as a high school senior at Chartiers Valley High School, an all-Atlantic 10 player during his two years at Duquesne University and an all-Pac-12 player and All-American during his two years at the University of Arizona, leading the Wildcats to the Elite Eight both seasons.
Sure, he went undrafted after that, “blessed” by the Short Caucasians Can’t Play Syndrome … and then proceeded to prove he could play, and play well, in the NBA off the Sixers’ bench for three seasons after they signed him as a free agent off their Summer League squad in 2015.
Yo, he’s the only sub in club history to record a triple double.
Truth be told, he has shown a knack for running the Sixers’ offense at such an efficient, sped-up pace that it was clear as early as Game 2 against Boston that the team needed him in there to succeed. Whether fellow point man Simmons was on the floor with him or not.
Brown finally started him in Game 4.
OK, so the coach is a slow learner, but, hey, at least he made the move in time to spare the Sixers being swept as McConnell responded with a career-high 19 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and some desperately needed harassing defense on Boston’s Terry Rozier to spearhead an 11-point victory for Philly.
Who knows, if Brown shows the same sort of conviction with keeping McConnell on the floor tonight in Boston as he did in keeping him off it the first eight games of this postseason, maybe the team’s long-suffering, process-trusting fan base could be in for something special.
Thing is, the true beauty of McConnell is that he doesn’t back down. From anyone. The criticism, including the back-handed compliments from the likes of Brown, only serve to fuel his fire, which seems endless anyway.
Plus, he’s a far more skilled and athletic player than given credit for. With apologies to no one, he has the best handle on the Sixers – by far – and he’s cocksure confident with the ball in his hands, to the point, unlike Simmons, that he doesn’t pick up his dribble unnecessarily.
The likely Rookie of the Year actually plays better when he’s paired with McConnell. Gives him a chance to roam, and find alternative ways to attack the rim aside from dominating the ball all the way there.
Take note: That renewed emphasis of getting the ball inside we saw Monday night, that’s as much McConnell as anyone else. Not only is he directing traffic to go that route, but he provides a mid-range game sorely lacking with the Sixers. The smallest guy on the floor ain’t afraid to mix it up inside, either.
Ain’t afraid to mix it up anywhere, which is why he would have affected the game positively for the Sixers the other night regardless of how many points he scored.
Expect much the same in Game 5 … if Brown opts to have X mark the spot again.