PHOENIX – T.J. McConnell kept it real.
The 76ers backup point guard said something that most observers already know following Wednesday’s 132-127 victory over the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
“Our bench just needs to be better,” McConnell said. “It’s flat-out unacceptable for real.”
Blown assignments committed mostly by reserves contributed to the Suns making things competitive in the second half. The Sixers had a commanding 30-point cushion with 3 minutes, 20 seconds left in the third quarter. But Phoenix fought back and pulled within three points with 5.9 seconds left in the game.
JJ Redick hit a pair of foul shots with 4.6 seconds left and Ben Simmons’ blocked Mikal Bridges three-pointer with 0.8 left as the Sixers avoided an embarrassing loss.
Joel Embiid (42 points, 18 rebounds), Simmons (29 points) and Redick (27) combined to score 98 of the team’s 132 points on a night when fellow starters – Jimmy Butler and Wilson Chandler – were sidelined with respiratory infections.
Meanwhile, the Suns' bench produced 53 points compared with 20 for the Sixers' reserves. Sixers backup center Mike Muscala was basically a nonfactor offensively. He missed his lone shot attempt in 23 minutes of action and failed to score a point for the second time this season.
Two other reserves -- McConnell and Demetrius Jackson graded out with a minus-7 and minus-16, respectively. Landry Shamet, the last of the four reserves, wasn’t his normal sharp-shooting self. He went 1-for-4 on three-pointers and shot 2-of-5, finishing with five points.
“It starts with me,” McConnell said. “I just have to be better, man.”
His two turnovers came from being careless with the ball. And later in the game, his lack of awareness led to a shot-clock violation.
“I get a shot-clock violation as a point guard in the NBA,” he said. “You just got to know how much time is the clock. It’s just stupid stuff like that.
“The bench has to be better. It starts with the point guard that’s out there.”
However, the Sixers had a short bench because Furkan Korkmaz and Jonah Bolden started in place of Butler and Chandler respectively.
That provided minutes for Jackson in a reserve role, and coach Brett Brown liked the energy he provided.
A point guard on a two-way contract, Jackson played shooting guard against the Suns. Despite having a team-worst minus-16, he finished with eight points on 3-for-3 shooting.
Meanwhile, Bolden got his first career start after splitting time with the Delaware Blue Coats, the Sixers’ G-League affiliate. Brown feels Wednesday’s circumstances could serve as a confidence boost for reserves like Jackson and Bolden.
Bolden got into early foul trouble that kind of limited his game.
“That was disappointing, especially when you are down [players],” Brown said. “You are wondering what you are going to do there with Wilson out. But I thought when he [Bolden] played, he gave us good stuff.”
The coach was also pleased by Shamet’s defensive performance and a clutch three-pointer Korkmaz hit in the fourth quarter.
So there are a few positives that the reserves can build on.