T.J. McConnell Lifts Sixers to 97-79 Victory
The Philadelphia 76ers jumped out to an early lead against the Detroit Pistons, eventually holding on for a 97-79 victory. The win improves the Sixers to 6-18 on the season.
It was the second consecutive road victory for Brett Brown‘s Philadelphia 76ers, who broke a 23-game road losing streak with Thursday’s win in New Orleans.
The Sixers were boosted by the presence, however brief it was, of Nerlens Noel, who made his season debut for the Sixers. Noel finished with 8 points and a steal in 10 minutes of play, but did not appear in the second half after suffering a left ankle sprain. The Sixers were a +11 in Noel’s 10 minutes of play.
Noel appeared to suffer the injury in the first quarter and continued to play on it through the remainder of the first half. After the game, both Noel and head coach Brett Brown sounded like they expected Noel to be available for Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Raptors.
With Joel Embiid out (elbow inflammation) and Noel unavailable in the second half, it was Jahlil Okafor who shined. Okafor scored the first 7 points of the third quarter for the Sixers, helping them increase their lead to 22 midway through the third quarter, a lead they would eventually extend all the way out to 25.
And for a while it seemed like they would need every one of those points.
The Sixers went from 7:45 left in the 4th quarter to 3:17 left without scoring a point, watching their 19-point lead dwindle to just 8 before Ersan Ilyasova made a technical free-throw to take the lid off the basket. The Sixers went on to score the final 10 points of the game, holding on for a 97-79 victory.
For a team that has struggled to close out games like the Sixers have over the last three years, that was a nice finish to the game for Brett Brown and his team.
For the Sixers it was their second consecutive road victory, the first time the Sixers won consecutive road games in nearly two years. The last time the Sixers did so was on December 21st and December 23rd of 2014 when they beat the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat to kick off a 7-game road trip.
The Sixers began the season by losing their first 7 road games of the season, a losing streak which reached 23 games when accounting for the 16-game road losing streak they ended the 2015-16 season on.
While much attention was focused on the return of Noel, along with Okafor’s success against Andre Drummond in the paint with spin moves and jump stops, hook shots and floaters, T.J. McConnell was the star of the game. McConnell finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists, and 3 steals on the night.
McConnell nearly became the first Sixers player to record a triple double since Michael Carter-Williams recorded 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists on January 30th, 2015. Carter-Williams has the last 5 triple doubles for the Sixers.
The Pistons had been playing well of late, winning five of their last seven games, including victories over the Hornets, Celtics, Hawks, Bulls, and Wolves.
Still, the Pistons were finishing off a hectic stretch of games, with tonight’s affair being their 4th game in 6 nights, and it clearly showed to start. The Sixers shot 61.5 percent from the field in the first half, outscoring the Pistons 58-35. The Pistons committed 8 turnovers and shot just 1-6 from three-point range in the first 24 minutes of play.
The Pistons tried to ramp up their defensive intensity late, forcing the Sixers into 9 fourth quarter turnovers. The Sixers were able to increase their defensive intensity as well, holding the Pistons to just 5-23 shooting in the final, sloppy, frame of play.
The Sixers had strong contributions throughout their starting lineup, with Ersan Ilyasova (15 points on 6-12 shooting, 8 rebounds), and Robert Covington (16 points, 6-9 shooting, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals) joining Okafor and McConnell with strong games.
The Sixers won despite giving up 28 points to Marcus Morris, his season high. Morris shot 10-16 from the field and 4-7 from three-point range, but also finished with just 2 rebounds and 1 assist in 37 minutes of play.
The Sixers had some of the best ball movement of the season in the win, finishing with 24 assists on 38 made field goals, going from, as Brown often says, good to great with regularity. The Sixers had 19 assists in the first half against a Pistons team that entered the game with the second best defense in the league.
The Sixers also finished the game with an 85.5 defensive rating, their third straight game giving up less than 100 points per 100 possessions. The Sixers have struggled to defend without Embiid on the court so far this season, giving up 109.4 points per 100 possessions heading into tonight’s game without Embiid on the court. They had no such difficulties tonight.
The Sixers will return to Philadelphia tonight, where they’ll begin a four game stretch at home Wednesday against the 16-7 Toronto Raptors.
Derek Bodner covers the 76ers for Philadelphia magazine. Follow @DerekBodnerNBA on Twitter.