No one person or play earned the 76ers a 108-92 win over the New York Knicks on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center. It was a total team effort. But two players definitely stood out.
Dario Saric and T.J. McConnell were everywhere and doing everything for the Sixers, who improved to 29-25 with their fourth straight win. Saric finished with a game-high 24 points while McConnell notched a triple-double with 10 points, 11 assists, and 10 rebounds.
McConnell became the first Philadelphia player to ever record a triple-double off the bench.
“He’s a wonderful lesson for so many basketball players in relation to what determination, perseverance, and toughness can bring you to,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said after the game. “We’ve seen him grow. He continues to get better, and tonight he was incredible.”
JJ Redick finished with 18 points, Joel Embiid added 17 points, and both Ben Simmons and Robert Covington finished with 13 points.
Though the arena filled with applause when the Sixers sealed the victory, the largest cheers came with just under a minute to play when McConnell grabbed the rebound that gave him the triple-double. Even the Sixers bench was unable to contain its joy.
“It was priceless,” McConnell said of his teammates’ reaction. “It just speaks volumes to the kind of guys we have on our team. I just love all of them and I thank them for supporting me like that.”
The Sixers went into halftime with just a two-point lead and three fouls apiece on both Embiid and Saric. Not exactly what you would expect with the Sixers having played so well recently, and the Knicks now fading with injured star Kristaps Porzingis out for the season.
But the Sixers did their best to prove that they are maturing and have the ability to regroup and take control of games. As what usually happens with the Sixers, a few gritty plays were all it took to get them amped up and ready for a run.
Covington put Michael Beasley on a poster with an emphatic dunk late in the third quarter. Embiid’s celebration and taunting after the play garnered a technical foul, which the crowd loved, and then McConnell’s defense forced Kyle O’Quinn to commit an offensive foul.
By the time Trevor Booker had muscled his way into a a three-point play in the early moments of the final period — which he made good on at the free throw line — the Sixers had extended their lead back into double digits.
“I thought Trevor came in and helped us, espescially on Beasley,” Brown said. “I think the combination of those two [Saric and Booker] did a pretty good job on Michael Beasley and I do agree that Dario is improving in the defensive area.”
Effective shooting from Saric and Redick helped sustain the Sixers in the first half, aided by the post moves and prowess of Embiid. McConnell came alive in the second half, energizing the Sixers and continuing to get everyone involved.
The Sixers took another step in the right direction, showing off glimpses of poise beyond their years.
When the Knicks pulled within three points on a layup by Emmanuel Mudiay midway through the second quarter, back-to-back three-pointers from Saric and Redick gave the Sixers some breathing room.
But an injury to Justin Anderson moments later knocked the wind out of the Sixers’ sails.
Courtney Lee stole the ball with 5 minutes, 49 seconds remaining in the second quarter and took off down the court. Anderson was right behind him, and prepared to go up for the block. But with a yell of pain he hit the floor instead.
Without waiting for anyone to help him, he continued to grimace and scream expletives as he hopped off into the nearest tunnel, not putting any weight on his right foot.
X-rays came back negative and a right ankle sprain was diagnosed. Anderson did not return to the game and will be re-evaluated Tuesday to make sure the injury is not more serious.
It seemed to be the consensus of coach and teammates that Anderson would be back playing soon.
“He helps us a lot and he’s been playing really well the past couple games,” Embiid said. “He’ll be fine. He’ll be back, and we need him.”
Though Porzingis finished with 22 points against the Sixers in their last meeting, on Christmas Day at Madison Square Garden, it was Enes Kanter who proved the most troublesome for the Sixers that day.
This time, not having to devote any time to Porzingis, the Sixers were able to pay more attention to the rest of the Knicks’ threats. Beasley paced the Knicks with 22 points, followed by Lee with 18 and Kanter with 17.
The Sixers will close out their five-game home stand on Wednesday against the Miami Heat.