Not all heroes wear capes. Sometimes, when one starter is sidelined with a neck injury, another is getting treatment for plantar fasciitis, yet another is toiling through foul trouble, and still one more is attempting to round back into form, they don calm, cool exteriors; reigning down buckets and quiet, competitive fire from all over the floor, whilst pouring in 53 points on 29 shots to lead their teams to tiebreak-clinching wins.
Or, at least that’s how T.J. Warren does it.
Inside, outside, and all points in-between, here’s five things to know about the 20 shots the 26-year-old forward made during the best game of his career.
Warren was a monster in transition
One way to avoid tangling with Philadelphia’s length in the half-court is to make sure they stay on their heels in the open floor. In sprinting to the three-point line and pushing the ball off rebounds and turnovers, Warren logged a total of nine transition possessions — well above his regular season average of three per game.
Per usual, like a volcano that suddenly erupts after years of staying dormant, the crafty forward held onto the ball for as long as possible before hanging in mid-air and belching up two of his signature shots around the rim, but he also generated a lefty layup for himself with an evasive, behind-the-back maneuver and, more importantly, fired away from deep with the greenest of green lights at the wings:
Sliding away from and/or stepping into the pass, Warren went 4-of-5 on threes attempted within the first seven seconds of the shot-clock. Prior to the hiatus? He was averaging less than one per game. Granted, some of that can obviously be attributed to sloppy play by the Sixers, and he can’t be expected to replicate this level of output; however, for a team that generally shies away from gunning, what once would’ve been deemed as reckless now should arguably be given a provisional stamp of approval to counterbalance for what they’re likely to give up on the glass and run into without their quarterbacks.
He slid along the baseline without stopping
Before heading down to Orlando, Warren attempted one of every eight of his shots this season as a baseline two despite shooting less than 35 percent on those shots. Against Philly, he eliminated all of those in-between looks in favor of layups; first, lurking behind the defense to swoop-in for a dump-off pass and twice scurrying to the rim when Ben Simmons was top-locking and none of his teammates managed to help.
Those are free points when you can get them, and you can get them when the second screener’s man is hesitant to stray too far from home on a spaced big.
He shot from way downtown
As if it wasn’t already enough to have knocked down a career-high nine threes on 75 percent shooting, the average shot distance of the mid-range scorer’s makes was 27 feet. According to Basketball Reference’s Shot Finder, Warren had previously only attempted six shots from that far out all season, which means he eclipsed his total volume on long bombs for the year in a single game.
To be fair, some of them were definitely heat checks, but there’s something to be said for spreading out the defense a few extra feet against a long team. For instance, after walling off Aaron Holiday on the drive and forcing a pass, Simmons still would’ve been able to recover on Warren’s final make of the game if he had shot a normal three.
And, here, if he had taken even one more step into the shot.
Likewise, even with Warren canning three pull-up threes, of which he’s averaged exactly 0.3 attempts this season, Simmons still would’ve had the reach to contest on this one from under the pick had the buttery scorer rose up closer to the line.
Moving forward, once Warren is no longer squaring up against the opposing team’s top wing defender, pulling up from distance and extending out from the elbows has the potential to open up driving lanes both for himself and Oladipo.
He pulled out all the tricks
On the rare occasions when Warren wasn’t pulling-up behind the arc or attacking the paint, where all but four of his field-goals were converted, the throwback scorer was making sure he had enough elbow room to go to work. Of course, one could quibble that some of his mid-range looks weren’t so much the product of high-leverage situations as they were a result of shallow screens or merely working to get open no matter where open was, but two of them (along with one of his threes) have something in common: He stepped back to create space.
And, here’s the thing: Prior to tonight, when he had the hot hand and dared to plunge to the depths of his cavernous bag of tricks, he had attempted less than 20 step-backs — from all distances — for the season.
He still played the hits
Just prior to when he crossed the half-century mark on a made three as well as earlier in the fourth quarter, Warren did what he does best. Curling tightly around two staggered picks, he took what the defense gave him and (perhaps with a few shuffled steps in one instance) shoveled a pair of pull-up twos directly into the soft spot of Philly’s drop coverage.
Why it was that Horford and Embiid were sitting that far back against a guy who was about to light them up for a 50-spot is anyone’s guess, but the fact that Warren can hit that push shot means he still has a way to score when teams play him closer without forcing him to pass (remind me again why he wasn’t being trapped?) or on nights when his newfound step-back and (apparently) deeper range prove a little less incandescent.
Taking place not far from Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, what was a magical night of shot-making and firsts for Indiana’s third scorer also was a fun reminder of why what he already is stretches the imagination of who he could still grow to be.