Right now, T.J. McConnell is something of a hero in Philadelphia. In Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series, McConnell’s spark and his ability to defend Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier led the Sixers to a series-extending win, keeping them alive for Wednesday’s Game 5 at the TD Garden.
“There’s an injection of energy that you immediately know you’re going to get with him,” head coach Brett Brown said after the game, according to my colleague Mike Sielski. “You heard me talk over the previous 48 hours about making sure our spirit wouldn’t take a hit. I personally zoomed in and said, ‘What can I do to help the team the most?’ … There’s no better player to try to catapult the start of the game with that mindset than T.J.”
But one pundit who wasn’t impressed with McConnell was ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, co-host of PTI and an NBA studio analyst. During a discussion Tuesday about Joel Embiid’s on-the-court jockeying with Rozier, Wilbon ripped McConnell for a gesture he made during the third quarter, when he grabbed a defensive rebound, moved the ball down the length of the court for a layup, and appeared to stare at his “hot hand” after the basket.
“I believe the Sixers are going to become hateable for the rest of the nation very soon,” Wilbon told co-host Tony Kornheiser. “Some little dude named T.J. is looking at his hand like he’s Shaq. Here’s what’s going to happen to T.J. in the next game: Terry Rozier is going to run over him like a truck, and he’s not going to do anything.”
It’s worth pointing out that McConnell was a dominant defensive force in Game 4 as far as Rozier was concerned. On the 29 possessions McConnell guarded Rozier one-on-one, the Celtics guard scored just one point and attempted just four shots, missing them all. On those possessions, the Celtics as a team scored just 18 points. McConnell also scored a career-high 19 points on 9-for-12 shooting, pulled down seven rebounds and added five assists.
Wilbon gave McConnell some credit for his performance, but predicted the Celtics would make enough adjustments to keep him in check.
“Here’s what he’s going to do on the road in the next game: squadouch. He’s doing nothing,” Wilbon said.
As far as the gesture that angered Wilbon, McConnell said after the game that he didn’t really know why he did it. In an appearance on The Dan Patrick Show on Tuesday, McConnell said: “That was what I like to call an out-of-body experience. I was just surprised how open I was, and the first thing I could think of is just look at my hand like an idiot. I don’t know why I did it.”
“Well, now you’ve got to continue to do it,” an amused Patrick replied.
“If the opportunity presents itself, I definitely will,” McConnell said.
McConnell also offered a surprising opinion about Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whom McConnell watched as a young fan growing up in Pittsburgh and met at a school event.
“I met Roethlisberger a while ago when I was little, but it wasn’t too good of an interaction,” McConnell told Patrick. “I respect him as a player, but he wasn’t exactly the nicest guy.”
McConnell said he was so upset after meeting Roethlisberger that he stopped rooting for the Steelers altogether for several seasons. So did he set his eyes across the state and start rooting for the Eagles?
“No, no, I didn’t. I was a little petty and rooted for some teams in our division and then I reverted back to [being] a Steelers fan,” McConnell said. “I was a Cincinnati Bengals fan for a little bit. … They weren’t ever any good when I rooted for them.”
He’s also a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins, but we won’t hold that against him.
Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Sixers and Celtics will tip off at 8 Wednesday at TD Garden. The game is being broadcast on TNT, with Brian Anderson and Kevin McHale once again pulling broadcast duties, along with reporter Ros Gold-Onwude.
To get ready for the game, my colleague David Murphy has a few big reasons for Sixers fans to be optimistic.