With his team fighting for its life and the season on the line, Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown turned to an undrafted free agent.
After playing effective, but limited minutes through the first three games of the series (plus-20 in 37 minutes), McConnell was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Robert Covington for Game 4.
The move paid instant dividends for Brown as the guard raised the 76ers’ defensive intensity while providing playmaking on the other end, where he had 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting to go with five assists and no turnovers.
Aside from the tangible impact McConnell had on the game, he also fired up the 76ers’ home crowd and lifted spirits with Philadelphia staring at a near-impossible 3-0 series hole.
“You need to come in with a spirit. You need to come in with a tenacity,” Brown said. “T.J. epitomises that, so we start him. To declare that to a team – and you’re fighting for your life – and to then put him in an environment that lets him do it makes more sense to me as a coach.”
McConnell is now far and away Philadelphia’s leader in plus-minus for the series at plus-38. That’s not only better than anyone also on Boston’s roster, but ranks ninth among all players in the second round.
His defence on Terry Rozier, who had his worst outing of the series in Game 4 – 11 points, two assists and 4-of-11 shooting – will be critical if the 76ers want to become the first team in NBA history to come back from a 3-0 deficit.
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The Cleveland Cavaliers superstar went the length of the court and banked a running, one-handed floater off the glass as time expired to capture a 105-103 victory.
Before James and Cavaliers go for the sweep Sunday night, relive the magical moment with video of the amazing shot below.
It just so happened that Golden State also needed to claim Game 4 against the New Orleans Pelicans to avoid losing control of the series, which they did with a 118-92 victory to be a game away from the Western Conference Finals.
Winning was important for the Warriors, but more vital to their long-term outlook in these playoffs is how they won Game 4.
Not only did Kevin Durant look unstoppable as he was leaned on to score, but the team’s ‘Death Lineup’ – or ‘Hamptons Five’, referring to Durant hosting free agent pitches in the Hamptons in the summer of 2016 – fired on all cylinders.
Durant scored Golden State’s first two baskets on pull-up jumpers to set the tone for the night as the Warriors put the ball in his hands often. He finished with 38 points on 15-of-27 shooting, which saw him kill the Pelicans in the mid-range, where he shot 9-of-15.
Jrue Holiday had done relatively well to contain Durant earlier in the series, but in Game 4 there was little any New Orleans defender could do as the Golden State forward was dominant in isolations and post-ups, looking like he did during his Oklahoma City days.
“I just try to tell myself that I’m at my best when I don’t care what happens after the game, the outcome or anything,” Durant said. “That’s when I’m free and having fun out there, and forceful. That was the thing – just try to play with force no matter if I missed shots or not, just keep shooting, keep being aggressive.”
The Warriors would prefer to play a more free-flowing style and whip the ball around instead of putting Durant on an island and relying on him to score in one-on-one situations. By unleashing Durant in Game 4, however, Golden State sharpened a weapon they may have to break out later on when their preferred offensive approach isn’t working.
Warriors’ 3 most-used lineups today:— Shane Young (@YoungNBA) May 6, 2018
• Death Lineup: +26 in 18 minutes, 11/21 from inside the arc, 7/15 from deep, 9/9 from FT
-2 in 9 minutes
• Cook-Livingston-KD-Green-Looney: +4 in 4 minutes
That has long been their go-to lineup in critical situations and in Game 4, it looked up for the task as it registered an offensive rating of 130.1 and a defensive rating of 66.5 for a net rating of 63.6 – a great sign for Golden State’s bid to repeat as champions.
“The versatility of that lineup, everybody is a playmaker,” Curry said. “Defensively we’re flying around. It just got the energy right to start the game.”