During Daryl Morey’s pursuit of James Harden last January, a report surfaced that the Rockets had their eyes on Tyrese Maxey. The report went on to say Houston was rebuffed by Morey.
Over the summer, there were rumblings that Portland superstar Damian Lillard might want out. Lillard never asked for a trade, but whenever the idea of Lillard coming to the Sixers was brought up, Maxey’s name was mentioned in the return package.
When the Harden-to-the-Sixers rumors re-emerged near the trade deadline, one thing was clear: Maxey wasn’t going anywhere.
Monday night’s thrilling 113-106 victory over the East-best Miami Heat was a good reminder of why the Sixers have clung on to Maxey during his rise to stardom.
Maxey scored 13 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter and came away with a huge block with 21 seconds left to seal the win.
The Sixers were without Joel Embiid and James Harden, but their third star rose to the occasion.
“[Embiid] told me he wasn’t playing before the game,” Maxey said, “and he said, ‘Go out there and help us get a W.’ I told him, I got him. I wish I would’ve stopped fouling, but it’s all good. It’s just a great feeling, to see the work that you put in come to life in a big game like that. I know I talked about it last night at the same spot, how we had the No. 1 team in the East coming in on a back-to-back and we were going to see what we were made of.”
As part of Maxey’s star turn we’ve seen so many special and clutch performances. Before Harden’s arrival, Maxey had a similar outing in an exciting overtime win over the surging Memphis Grizzlies.
But he’s had those types of moments with Embiid on the floor, most noticeably against Harden and the Nets in a win at Barclays Center. Maxey hit a career-high five threes that night and came up huge in the guts of the game.
It feels like the 21-year-old is always ready to shine when the pressure rises.
“He’s just not scared,” Doc Rivers said. “He’s so comfortable in the moment. My guess is as much as he works … he’s put so much work in his game, he feels pretty comfortable in any position. He’s been in that. The more work you put in, the more confident you are. I think that’s a great testimony for Tyrese Maxey.”
Tobias Harris, perhaps revealing more than he — and Maxey — would’ve liked to, compared it to Maxey’s style while playing cards.
“He takes risks,” Harris said. “I hope I don’t get in trouble … on the plane we play cards. (Laughs) And we play for some pretty good money on the table, right? And Tyrese plays. Sometimes I tell him, ‘Hey, just chill out. It’s a lot right there. Chill out.’ But then I say, ‘Nah, keep playing, because it’s what makes you great. You take risks.’ ... And I think that’s part of his game. He takes risks out there on the floor — big shots. And I say, ‘That’s what makes you great. You take risks. But I’m not going to let you go broke playing cards.’ But honestly, that’s what makes him great. ... He works, too, but he takes big shots and he wants to make big shots as well. And he does, as you saw tonight.”
“Don’t tell him that I told you he plays cards. His mom might kill me, y’all.”
(Sorry, Tobias. That’s on the record.)
Aside from his play, a big part of what has endeared Maxey to Philly is his on-court charisma.
With under three minutes left and the Sixers clinging to a 103-101 lead, Maxey used his blazing speed to drive by a defender and make an impressive righty bank shot through contact for an and-one. With a big smile, he then implored the Wells Fargo Center crowd to get louder.
LET'S HEAR YA, SOUTH PHILLY! pic.twitter.com/kVikSofdUD— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) March 22, 2022
In a game that lost a ton of juice before it even began, Maxey electrified the crowd with that drive and a pair of step-back threes.
After so many lean years and failed draft picks, Maxey is the type of player this city deserves.
“I’m always going to have fun, whatever the circumstances,” Maxey said. “I get to wake up in the morning and play basketball for a living. It’s a beautiful thing. I thank the Lord every single day, every single night, and every single time before I step on the court. So I’m always going to have that fun. But the Philadelphia crowd, every time I look at the sheet after the game it says sellout. That’s an amazing feeling. For them to come, even though your two superstars are not playing, to show the determination and just the will to rally behind them, it’s a really good feeling.”
Down the stretch, the crowd began chanting “MAX-EY.” When asked about it postgame, the second-year guard was almost at a loss.
“Philly, it’s different.”
And that’s the reason Morey selected Maxey when he fell to pick No. 21, and why Morey was unmoved when other teams brought up Maxey in negotiations.
This kid is different.