NBA Hoops

T.J. McConnell proves his NBA worth in Pacers’ series-evening Game 4 win over Knicks

Yaron Weitzman

About six or seven years ago, when Rick Carlisle was coaching the Dallas Mavericks, his team faced off against the Philadelphia 76ers. This was back when the Sixers were in the midst of the Process and fielding a roster of no-names with the goal of losing games.

Yet on this night, Carlisle’s group entered halftime with something like 16 turnovers. And it felt like all of them were forced by one Sixers player โ€” T.J. McConnell.

“He was just an enormous annoyance when you’re trying to play them,” Carlisle told reporters last week.

McConnell is still that. But now, in his ninth year in the league and coming off the bench for the Indiana Pacers, he’s become something more โ€” an awesome NBA player.

We’ve seen it on display all postseason, but especially this series against the New York Knicks, and especially in the Pacers’ 121-89 Game 4 win Sunday afternoon, evening this Eastern Conference semifinals series at 2-2. McConnell changed the game the moment he checked in, finishing with 15 points, 10 assists, four rebounds and two steals, with the Pacers outscoring the Knicks by 27 points (!) in the 21 minutes he was on the court.

McConnell plays as hard as anyone. He picks up opponents full court, and he hounded Jalen Brunson whenever the two shared the court. He pushes the pace and has an incredible ability to knife his way into the paint, forcing opposing defenses into rotation. His impact can be felt the moment he steps on the floor.

“He has an exuberance and an intensity that permeates the game,” Carlisle said last week.

The Knicks have had no answer for McConnell all series, just like the Milwaukee Bucks didn’t in the first round. In fact, had Carlisle not inexplicably kept McConnell on the bench down the stretch of Game 1, the Pacers might be up 3-1 and just one win away from the conference finals.

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McConnell’s growth is one of the coolest stories of the postseason, and something no one foresaw. Not even McConnell himself. On Sunday afternoon, Jeff Goodman, the longtime college basketball reporter, posted the following story: Back in 2015, when McConnell was considering entering the draft, he called up Goodman. Did Goodman think he was “good enough” to play in the NBA?

We’ve learned that answer. Now the…

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