NEW YORK – The 76ers needed this.
Monday’s 105-98 victory over the New York Knicks snapped a five-game losing streak. It marked just their second win in 11 games. But the Sixers (15-18) were far from giddy afterward. They believed they would win this one. They actually identified the Christmas Day game at Madison Square Garden as the one that would get them back on track.
They even had a boost from having their normal starting lineup for the first time in five games.
JJ Redick returned to the lineup after missing the previous two games with right hamstring tightness. Meanwhile, Joel Embiid played in his second consecutive matchup after missing the previous three with back tightness.
“I love our guys, they fight,” coach Brett Brown said. “But you bring in Jo [Embiid] and [Redick] and the fight goes to a higher level and gives us more a chance. Fans see it and our team sees it.
“When you live it in real time, it stands out dramatically.”
Their presence enabled reserve point guard T.J. McConnell to focus on his normal role instead of having to take up some of the slack. McConnell found teammates, was a pest on defense and in attack mode when needed.
He scored eight of his 15 points in a key stretch of the third quarter, after a stoppage in play with 1 minute, 43 seconds left, and the Sixers leading 71-70. McConnell was fouled when scoring on a driving layup five seconds later. He converted the three-point play to give the Sixers a four-point cushion.
Doug McDermott’s three-pointer closed the gap to one point, then McConnell scored the next five points. He hit a 12-footer before draining a 23-foot three-pointer to make it a 79-73 game with 25.5 seconds left in the quarter. McConnell’s points were timely as Redick played only 3:51 in the quarter.
McConnell’s lone shot attempt of the fourth quarter – a 15-foot, pull-up jumper – gave the Sixers an 86-77 advantage with 8:59 to play.
“I think he was the MVP of the game,” Brown said of McConnell.
While Embiid echoed Brown’s remark, one can argue that he and Redick could have shared the award with McConnell.
That’s because Embiid finished with 25 points, 16 rebounds, three assists and three blocks for his 15th double-double of the season.
Redick made 4 of 8 three-pointers and finished with 24 points.
Collectively, the three helped the Sixers do something they haven’t done consistently: close out a game.
“We played hard,” Redick said of the Sixers. “There was an effort there throughout the game.”
After McConnell gave the Sixers a nine-point cushion, the Knicks (17-16) went on a 12-3 run to knot the score on Kristaps Porzingis’ three-point play with 5:20 left.
The Sixers, however, responded with a 7-0 run to take a 96-89 lead after a Redick three-pointer at the 3:35 mark.
The Knicks kept mounting runs that the Sixers kept halting with timely plays and clutch baskets.
“We were on a losing streak,” Redick said. “We realized we are at a breaking point in the season. We had to play with more urgency. Today our energy was a different level.”
Ben Simmons finished with eight points, eight rebounds, three assists, one steal, one block and two turnovers. He was quiet early on, with just two points and one assist at intermission. His most noteworthy achievement in the first half was switching from his green Christmas Day-edition sneakers to a red pair late in the second quarter, citing stiff laces.
But this was a victory he and all his teammates enjoyed. The mood in the locker room was completely different from the funeral-parlor-type setting following Saturday’s loss in Toronto.
“It’s kind of good to have everyone back and close out a game,” McConnell said. “We still had turnovers at the end. And we still had guys missing some shots. If we hit those, I think we beat them by a little bit more.”
Robert Covington and Dario Saric struggled. Saric had 10 points on 4-for-15 shooting. He missed all six of his three-pointers. Covington had eight points on 2-for-8 shooting, including making 1 of 4 threes.
Knicks center Enes Kanter finished with game highs of 31 points and 22 rebounds. Porzingis added 22 points, seven rebounds, and five blocks.