The chants for ”TJ! TJ!” grew louder each time T.J. McConnell darted through the lane for an easy basket or buried a 3 to build an insurmountable lead for the 76ers. He wore a sheepish look as teammates rubbed his head on the bench in appreciation Kelechi Osemele Jersey
, the big moment due on an undrafted guard who plugged a role in the early Process days and morphed into a surprise postseason savior.
McConnell turned an eye-popping start into the save of the season and Dario Saric scored 25 points to help Philadelphia stave off elimination in a 103-92 win over the Boston Celtics in Game 4 on Monday night.
”If I saw a lane, I took it. If I had an open shot, I would try and take it,” McConnell said.
Yet the Sixers still face daunting odds headed into Game 5 and trailing 3-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals: No NBA team has ever won a series down 3-0.
McConnell had a career-high 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists in only his second start of the season and meshed well in the backcourt with Ben Simmons. The crowd chanted his initials each time he touched the ball in the fourth and he proved why he has been so valuable even as bigger stars have sliced his playing time.
He was just what coach Brett Brown needed in a must-win game.
”I can tell you the Philadelphia 76ers spirit is just fine,” Brown said.
With NBA teams down 3-0 having lost all 129 series, the Sixers may need more than spirit to pull off this stunner.
Joel Embiid had 15 points and 13 rebounds and Simmons had 19 points and 13 boards.
Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 20 points and Marcus Morris had 17.
The Sixers spent the second half in control in what could be their last home game of the season.
Embiid was still in the mix in his mask, stirring it up with any Celtic within his wingspan. He chirped at Marcus Morris in the third and the Celtics forward flashed a ”3-0” with his hands. McConnell buried a 3 for a 14-point lead that would soon make that combination obsolete.
The ”TJ!” chants soon echoed throughout the Wells Fargo Center.
”It was a pretty special moment,” McConnell said of the chants. ”I think we have the best fans in the NBA. They’ve been here through the dark times and they’ve certainly been here on our rise.”
So has McConnell.
Brown was desperate to spark the Sixers and benched slumping forward Robert Covington (0 for 14 combined in Games 1 and 3) for McConnell. McConnell had started 68 games combined over the last two seasons and served as an example of the type of player The Process was built on. He was an underdog, a hustler Colin Kaepernick Jersey
, a court general averaging 6.5 points that made him a reliable favorite for Brown. But Simmons’ emergence put McConnell on the bench, and without complaint.
With a chance to shine, McConnell zipped inside for easy buckets, made the extra pass to keep the offense rolling and made the dive for loose balls.
”How do I help my stars be stars because at the end of the day that’s what we need,” Brown said. ”That’s my job.”
He turned to McConnell, that’s how.
The anticipation of elimination and a 6 p.m. EDT tip sharply cut into attendance and the game had more of an early-season feel until Embiid and Terry Rozier shook everyone up with pushing and shoving late in the first half. Embiid tried to strip the ball from Rozier after the whistle. Rozier tightened his grip and Embiid slapped at the ball again. The 6-foot-1 Rozier shoved the 7-2 Embiid in the chest with his right hand and the two quickly had to be separated.
”He tried to punch me twice. Too bad he’s so short he couldn’t get to my face,” Embiid said.
Rozier and Embiid were hit with Ts. Then they each hit 3s.
Embiid buried one that had the crowd buzzing until Rozier came right back and hit his own.
The Celtics took a punch – but they can still finish it Wednesday at home.
”Finish the game. Get it done,” Boston’s Jaylen Brown said. ”Advance and do what we were supposed to do.”
Celtics: G Shane Larkin left with a left shoulder injury in the first quarter. … Markieff Morris of the Wizards was in the stands to support twin brother Marcus. The brothers are Philly natives.
Sixers: Covington still hit the bench early in the second quarter with three quick fouls. … Missed 10 of 14 3s in the first half.
The Celtics could be even more of a threat had Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward not been lost this season to injury.
”There’s not a coach in the world that wouldn’t want everybody available,” coach Brad Stevens said. ”I think that obviously we’d be better with those guys. They’re very good players. Both unselfish players. But I really like this group and those guys are still a part of that.”
The Sixers scrapped their traditional confetti cannon celebration after it was prematurely shot at the end of regulation in a Game 3 overtime loss.
Alec Peters missed his last four shots after the Phoenix rookie had more than quadrupled his career high, at one point turning toward Dallas coach Rick Carlisle and saying Joe Montana Jersey
, ”I’m tired.”
It will be a night to remember anyway in a forgettable season for both teams.
Peters scored 36 points, 28 more than his previous best, and the Suns beat the Mavericks 124-97 on Tuesday night in a reserve-filled finale for teams headed to the lottery.
”I looked over at coach Carlisle and he was looking at me wide-eyed and I’m like, I’m exhausted right now,” said Peters, who bounced back and forth from the G League most of the season. ”I know I missed a layup at the end. I’m not going to fret over it too much. Cool night for sure.”
The Mavericks (24-58) entered the game tied for the third-worst record in the NBA and stayed that way while sitting eight players. That included star Dirk Nowitzki, whose 20th season ended last week when he had ankle surgery.
Atlanta finished with the same record after losing at home to Philadelphia 121-113. Orlando can join the Mavericks and Hawks with a loss at home to Washington on Wednesday.
Phoenix (21-61), which had already clinched the worst record and best lottery odds for the No. 1 pick in the draft in June, also didn’t dress eight players. The Suns won for the second time in 19 games to wrap up their third straight season with at least 58 losses.
Johnathan Motley led Dallas with 21 points.
Peters, who had 46 points total in 19 previous games Desmond King Jersey
, was 8 of 13 from 3-point range. The Suns shot 76 percent in the second half while outscoring the Mavericks 80-43. It matched the most points the Mavericks have given up in a half.
”We had trouble stopping Larry Bird, dressed up as Alec Peters,” Carlisle said.
Suns: The four players not already listed as out who sat were Devin Booker (right hand sprain), Troy Daniels (left ankle sprain), T.J. Warren (left knee inflammation) and Marquese Chriss (lower back/leg pain). … Rookie Shaquille Harrison had his first NBA double-double with career highs of 18 points and 10 assists.
Mavericks: The two players not already listed as out who didn’t play were Doug McDermott (left elbow contusion) and rookie guard Dennis Smith Jr. (left knee soreness). Leading scorer Harrison Barnes was listed as rest.
DIRK FOR 21
Nowitzki revealed that he spent all season dealing with bone spurs in his left ankle that finally resulted in surgery last week. The German star has maintained that he planned to return next season, which would make him the first to play 21 seasons with the same franchise.
The timing of the surgery was designed to give Nowitzki plenty of time to recover for his offseason regimen. He said he would spend about three weeks in the walking boot he wore in his meeting with reporters before the game.
”I didn’t miss a lot of games this year,” said Nowitzki, who played 77 games, a record for a player in his 20th season. ”I felt fine most of the time. I always said all year that I want to fulfill that two-year contract if possible. I saw nothing this year that was going to stop it.”
Suns: C Tyson Chandler could be attractive in an offseason trade with one year left on a contract that averages $13 million per season. He was a key piece of the Dallas championship in 2011, and returned in a trade with the New York Knicks three years later with one year left on a four-year contract. Chandler signed with the Suns when the Mavericks tried hard to lure DeAndre Jordan away from the Clippers. After initially agreeing to sign with Dallas Kyzir White Jersey
, Jordan changed his mind and stayed in LA.
Mavericks: They seem committed to keeping Barnes, who has two years left on a $94 million, four-year max deal he signed two years ago. The most likely piece in a trade would be G Wesley Matthews, who is going into the final year of a $70 million, four-year deal that got richer when Jordan backed out on the Mavs. While Matthews returned from a ruptured Achilles tendon much quicker than usual in his first season and was durable thereafter, he hasn’t been the difference-making scorer Dallas needs.
— Troy Brown Jr. Jersey