It was the same game that it feels like the Process-era Philadelphia 76ers have blown about a half-dozen separate times to the Boston Celtics: Leading for much of the game, coughing up the lead late and then losing on a last-minute three-pointer. It was still an extremely well-fought game by the Sixers, considering that Boston hit a franchise-record 19 triples, but three wins in a row would've sounded a lot better than two W's and a moral victory. Final score: Celtics 110, 76ers 106.
But T.J. McConnell, wow. A lot of Sixers played well in this game: Joel had 23 on 6-12 shooting before fouling out, Nerlens was awesome off the bench (13 and 8 with three blocks), Gerald Henderson returned to the lineup after a week off with 18 of the bench. The game ball undoubtedly goes to T.J., though, who racked up an astounding 17 assists in this one, to go with nine points, two steals and just two turnovers. It's obviously a career high, and something only one other Sixer this century has done -- the great Andre Miller, who collected 18 dimes in a 2008 win over Chicago.
Though he mostly posted unremarkable numbers for the season's opening months when coming off the bench, T.J. has been borderline-electric as a starter for Philly. In four starts this season, he's averaging 10.5 points and 10.5 assists a game, shooting over 50% and losing the ball just over two times a game. The Sixers are also 3-1 in those games -- 6-24 elsewhere -- with that one loss coming by a sliver last night in Boston. (T.J. also had the highest plus-minus for the contest, finishing with a +10 on the night.)
Of course, it's practically an annual tradition for the Sixers to get a new starting point guard and experience a surge in productivity around the new year -- Ish Smith, anybody? -- and it doesn't often last forever, as the league will learn how to better counter T.J.'s strengths and expose his weaknesses. (Expect a lot of open looks at three in weeks to come, and a lot of frustrating drives and even more frustrating bricks to ensue.) But considering how well the team is currently playing with him at the helm, and how erratic Sergio Rodriguez was as a starter, it's probably right that Timothy John should stay in the first five even when Rodriguez returns from his ankle sprain. He is part of the family, after all.
The last time the Flyers were in an outdoor game, Ilya Bryzgalov was drinking from a thermos on the bench while Sergei Bobrovsky started against the Rangers five years ago.
Fast forward to Saturday night. Bryzgalov is out of the NHL, Bobrovsky has himself in the conversation for his second Vezina Trophy in Columbus, and the Flyers face off against the Penguins at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh in a Stadium Series game … weather permitting.
The weather is expected to cooperate tonight, though. The forecast called for rain today and temperatures in the 50s, but it hasn't rained much. The temperature is expected to drop into the 40s and 30s, and may even hit a lot of 28, according to Weather.com.
Don't tell Bryzgalov that. "Bryz" took to Twitter to offer advice for Flyers and Penguins fans attending the Stadium Series match tonight.
You don't need no stinkin' thermos.
If you're not following Bryzgalov on Twitter, you should click that follow button now. He's always an entertaining follow.
There's your Philadelphia 76ers season in a nutshell, huh? Nerlens Noel gets traded for an all-lemon pack of Starbursts, Ben Simmons' right foot is still apparently stuck in a beartrap, Joel Embiid can't get himself dismissed from the nurse's office, and Jahlil Okafor is forced back into +1 status after everyone else passed on going to the concert with Bryan Colangelo -- and the Ballers still go out and beat one of the best teams in the East in their first game back from the All-Star break. Nearly everything about the Sixers is depressing right now, except for the team themselves. They're cool.
Kudos to Brett Brown, man. The team is playing with such fluency and energy right now that it can withstand some losses in personnel without the drop-off being particularly dramatic -- at least for the moment. Replacing Embiid and Noel with Okafor and Holmes for as long as we'll have to do it will catch up with us in time, but for now, all you can do is marvel at the pace, cohesion and (with some mildly glaring moments of exception) discipline that Brown has the guys playing at the moment. I doubt there are five coaches in the league having a more impressive season than him right now.
But the players were pretty good in this one, too. Dario Saric had 20-11-4 in his first start in three weeks, continuing his unlikely Rookie of the Year surge with his third-straight double-double and fourth game of 20-plus in his last six games. The All-Star Break hasn't cooled Robert Covington's hot hand, as the shooter went 5-9 from deep last night and is now 17-31 on threes over his last four games, also posting a 20-10 night with his 25 points and 11 boards. (Also three assists and four steals, whatever.) Richaun Holmes dunked over some people and reminded a handful of fans why they've gotten way too excited about him at various points earlier in the year. Good times were had by all.
Games like last night's also just remind you how marginal the difference between winning and losing is. As they've been wont to do forever, the Sixers blew their considerable lead to the Wizards late in this one, which would've undoubtedly resulted in a tragic loss in years past. But these days, the leads are a little bigger going into the Sixers' fourth-quarter tailspins, and their defense is just a little tighter on critical possessions, and that's the difference between losing on a Bradley Beal buzzer-beater and hitting just enough free throws to squeak out a mildly secure 120-112 victory.
Anyway, after an impossibly discouraging week of Sixers happenings, it turns out some actual Sixers basketball is just what we needed. Hopefully their level of play will continue to get better as news of their off-court developments invariably keeps getting worse .