With the Philadelphia 76ers' season on the line, coach Brett Brown inserted T.J. McConnell into the starting lineup and the call paid dividends in a huge way as the reserve guard went OFF for a career night.
McConnell scored a career-high 19 points in the 103-92 win over the Celtics, setting the tempo for the gritty Sixers who followed his lead.
"The energy I think that T.J. brought was huge for us," Ben Simmons said in his post-game press conference.
"Getting that starting position was huge. He really stepped up but I think everybody fed off that energy and we really took care of business and nobody was you know, lacking. Everybody was picking each other up and playing together."
"The energy that TJ brought was huge for us. He really stepped up."@BenSimmons25 & @JoelEmbiid on @TJMcConnell #NBAPlayoffs | #PhilaUnite pic.twitter.com/PWPVQZ3PUt- NBA TV (@NBATV) May 8, 2018
As the Sixers continued to struggle with their three-point shot, they did most of their damage in the paint, but it wasn't just the big men, with 14 of McConnell's 19 points coming in the paint.
The Sixers outscored the Celtics 52-30 in the paint in Game 4.
McConnell's 39 minutes also allowed Simmons to play off the ball more, which saw the Aussie get a ton of good looks inside, with a lot coming off McConnell's playmaking.
McConnell threads the needle to Simmons for the JAM pic.twitter.com/gZjWbvcelN- NBA Australia (@NBA_AU) May 7, 2018
Every time the Celtics looked like they were going to make a run, McConnell came up with a bucket, providing a steadying hand for the Sixers offence, with his contagious energy and effort inspiring his teammates down the stretch.
"I think it's just something that not everybody has. That fire within him," Simmons added.
"You know he's not the biggest guy, not the most athletic, but he has that energy that he brings every night and you know he's a huge part of this team and tonight was a night where he really stepped up and gave us that energy and allowed everybody else to really feed off that.
T.J. McConnell finished his 1st career playoff start with a career-high 19 points, including a game-high 14 points in the paint.- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 8, 2018
The 76ers are 8-0 this season (regular season and playoffs) when McConnell scores at least 15 points. pic.twitter.com/QG8a86VtJe
Sixers coach Brett Brown, who gambled on taking Robert Covington out of the starting lineup, couldn't have been happier with the way McConnell impacted the game.
"That's how he plays. There's an injection of energy that you immediately know you're gonna get with him," Brown said. "You heard me talk, for the previous 48 hours, of making sure that our spirit didn't take a hit.
"There's no better player to help catapult the start of the game with that mindset, than T.J., and the decision was based on a lot of other things, but that was the main thing: the energy, and the spirit."