A last-second surprise from Sixers coach Brett Brown proved to be the difference-maker in his team’s Game 4 against the Celtics. For only the second time all season, reserve Philly point guard T.J. McConnell got a spot in the starting lineup, replacing small forward Robert Covington, who had failed to make a field goal in two of his three previous games. McConnell responded by playing the night of his life in a 103-92 win, vindicating what could have been a sign of desperation and ensuring the Sixers will play at least one more game in a series they now trail 3-1.
The former undrafted player out of Arizona, now in his third year with the Sixers, had 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting, five assists and seven rebounds (he’s listed at six-foot-two). For context, McConnell had scored only 15 points through the Sixers’ entire first-round series against the Heat, and averaged 6.3 per game in the regular season.
In 39 minutes, McConnell shared the floor perfectly with fellow point guard Ben Simmons, asserting himself as a bigger scoring threat than Covington while smoothly setting up the rest of his teammates for pretty buckets. He even sparked a standing ovation and a “TJ” chant from the Philly crowd when he went to the bench in the fourth quarter, to the delight of Markelle Fultz.
It’s an overstatement to say that Philly dominated Boston, or did anything to make you believe they can win three more games in a row. But still, McConnell gave the Sixers a new swagger, highlighted by cocky passes and bold drives that shredded the Celtics’ D.
McConnell’s performance sparked a lot of comments about his grit and hustle, which is maybe to be expected when a short white guy is out there grabbing his own boards for put-back makes. But even if this showcase was a weird Dellavedova-esque anomaly, the actual skill he showed in Game 4 was still very fun to watch, and brings some life into what could have been a quickly forgotten second-round sweep. McConnell even drained his first three-pointer of the playoffs, confirming the specialness of his night by succeeding with that awkward, slow-ass jump shot of his.
McConnell and the Sixers will try to prolong the magic in Game 5 on Wednesday.