To borrow a phrase and twist it to something you never thought you would say about the NBA: You can’t stop T.J. McConnell, you can only hope to contain him.
The woebegone Philadelphia 76ers are suddenly one of the hottest teams in the league, and — never mind rising star Joel Embiid — the surge perfectly coincides with the insertion of McConnell into the starting lineup.
The Sixers are 9-3 with McConnell as the starting point guard since Dec. 30 and are 10-3 this season when he gets the nod.
They have won on back-to-back nights — over the L.A. Clippers on Tuesday and at Milwaukee on Wednesday. McConnell, a former Arizona Wildcat and second-year undrafted pro, has had three consecutive games with double-digit assists. He had 13 assists — nine in the first half — in the 114-109 win over the Bucks.
“In this streak that we’ve been on, teams have punched us in the mouth and we didn’t go away,” McConnell said after Wednesday’s game in a video posted by CSNPhilly.com.
Here is McConnell stealing an inbounds pass from Wednesday night:
H U S T L E pic.twitter.com/fPbPnYnhDP
“Right now, they’re pushing the pace,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said last weekend, when his Hawks beat the Sixers. “T.J. McConnell does a great job of getting outlets, getting up the court and finding shooters quickly and they’re letting it fly.”
Atlanta forward Kent Bazemore added: “They have an identity. McConnell is playing really well, putting pressure on the defense and their floor spacing is very good. Very disciplined group.”
On Tuesday night, the Sixers had 34 assists, their most in a regulation game since February 2011. McConnell now has four games with double-digit assists this season.
In his past 12 games, McConnell:
— Is averaging 8.9 assists per game
— Has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.5-to-1
— Is averaging 7.8 points
— Is shooting 45 percent from the field, including a modest 4 of 11 from 3-point range
— Is averaging 4.25 rebounds and 1.5 steals
— Had had a game with 17 assists
— Beat the New York Knicks with a buzzer-beating jumper
To sum up: The Sixers are 10-3 with McConnell in the starting lineup, 7-24 when he’s not.