PHILADELPHIA — If T.J. McConnell seemed like he came out of nowhere to play the hero on Monday night, it would only be the continuation of a theme that has defined his NBA career.
A surprise insertion into the 76ers’ starting lineup in Game 4 with Philly down 3-0, McConnell set a career high for points in a game — regular season or playoffs — with 19, adding seven rebounds and five assists without turning the ball over as the Sixers beat the Celtics and kept their season alive.
Just like he has all season, McConnell injected energy into Wells Fargo Arena, with fans losing their minds as the guard popped up for a surprise putback in the paint and nailed an open three-pointer to stretch Philly’s lead to 76-62 in the third quarter. Few cities cling as tightly to underdogs quite like Philly, and in McConnell — listed generously at 6’2 — they have their relatable counterpart to Joel Embiid’s superhuman fireworks.
McConnell acting as contrast to Embiid is underscored by the cheer that rains down whenever Embiid is locked in, “Trust The Process.” Embiid has taken The Process as his own nickname, but the years-long project designed to net multiple superstars via the draft had a crucial side effect: It gave players like McConnell and Robert Covington a chance to show what they can do in the NBA.
A prep star in the Pittsburgh suburbs, McConnell committed to Duquesne as a sophomore. It was his only major offer, which he told Dime was “was just fine by me.” After two years at the Atlantic 10 school, McConnell transferred to Arizona. His defense was his calling card with the Wildcats, and he was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection and an Associated Press honorable mention All-American as a senior. During both years in Tucson, McConnell made the conference’s All-Defensive team.