The Sixers have a third star and his name is Tyrese Maxey.
Thanks to an electric performance from the second-year guard, the Sixers overcame a brutal start to beat the Cavaliers, 125-119, at the Wells Fargo Center Friday night. The win improves the team to 4-0 in the James Harden era and 39-23 overall. They’ll be in South Beach tomorrow to take on the Heat, who they trail by two games for the East’s top seed.
Here are a few takeaways from a fun night down at The Center.
- A pretty disastrous defensive start for the Sixers. The Cavs made their first nine shots — and then rebounded their first two misses before scoring again. Credit to Cleveland for running their sets and getting some outstanding looks, but the defensive intensity was lacking.
- The offense wasn’t a whole lot better as the Cavs went zone and the Sixers did what they usually do against a zone.
- Furkan Korkmaz and Paul Millsap still in the rotation. I have no answers for you.
- James Harden with a personal 6-0 run (an and-one drive and a step-back three) or this thing would be getting really out of hand.
- Welp, that quarter couldn’t have gone much worse. The Cavs shot 73.9 percent from the field and got whatever the hell they wanted. The Sixers were actually decent offensively, but defense was an enormous issue as Cleveland took the quarter 43-30.
- Yikes. Harden picks up his third foul. Not ideal timing with the Sixers trailing, 50-34, less than four minutes into the second quarter.
- When it rains, it pours:
The Sixers in-arena host just incorrectly said it's Tyrese Maxey's birthday when it's actually Matisse Thybulle's. Literally everything going wrong here tonight.— Paul Hudrick (@PaulHudrick) March 5, 2022
- Shake Milton hit his first three since returning to the lineup, an and-one floater and a short fadeaway jumper. He’s up to eight points. He’s only playing because Harden got into foul trouble. Why Doc went back to Korkmaz after playing Milton over him the other night is beyond me. Both are flawed players, but Milton seems like the clear better choice at the moment.
- It always amuses me when Doc goes zone, as if other NBA teams struggle against it as much as his does.
- Guess I have to eat my words a bit here because the zone is actually working. The Sixers cut the lead to nine on a Tyrese Maxey layup. I can’t imagine the Sixers could’ve played much worse to start this game, but they’re actually still in it.
- A flurry of activity to end the first half. Joel Embiid made an absolute circus shot and-one to make it 69-61 with 7.2 seconds left.
A cheapy foul on Matisse Thybulle gave Kevin Love two free throws and put the Cavs up 71-61 with 4.5 seconds left. Then, Tyrese Maxey flew down the floor to take a last-second three and was fouled with 0.4 remaining. He made 2 of 3 to make it 71-63 in favor of the Cavs going into the locker room. Honestly, Sixers should feel fortunate to only be down eight. Their offense has actually been fine overall — including Tobias Harris, who had 13 first-half points — but Cleveland is shooting 61.9 percent overall and 53.8 from three. Adjustments need to be made.
- Rivers went away from Thybulle in the first half with the Cavs going zone, but opted to start him in the second half.
- The Sixers went back to man and the intensity has definitely gone up. Thybulle really hounding Darius Garland. The offense is also clicking with Harden’s return. Sixers are somehow within three, 73-70.
- Embiid and Thybulle both with four fouls and Harden with three. We’ll see if it’s a factor.
- Maxey has been outstanding here in the third. He’s already up to 10 points in the period and 19 for the game. He’s really exploiting the holes in Cleveland’s zone. Sixers staying close, trailing, 82-79, with just under seven minutes left.
- Sixers in the penalty with 6:37 remaining.
- And now Thybulle picks up his fifth foul with four minutes left. Tough whistle for the Sixers tonight.
- Another Shake three and the Sixers are down one, 89-88. Should probably stick to playing him over Korkmaz.
- A huge play here late in the fourth. Harden nailed a step-back three and was fouled by rookie Evan Mobley. After a review, Mobley was called for a Flagrant one foul for not allowing Harden space to land.
Harden made the free throw and Georges Niang made a floater to give the Sixers their first lead of the night at 94-93 with under two minutes to go. After a stop, Niang buried a three off a Harden pass to give the Sixers a 97-93 lead. The crowd went absolutely wild, with many rising to their feet. Playoff-like atmosphere.
- A little bit of a sloppy close to the quarter, but the Sixers go into the fourth down just two at 99-97. The third quarter was the Tyrese Maxey Show. He had 14 points.
- Niang nails another three to put the Sixers back up, 100-99. What started off as a slop fest has turned into one hell of a game.
- Harden is just so methodical. Plays at his own pace with zero rush to his game. He’s up to 20 points and 10 assists. He’s been anchoring a mostly-bench lineup since the end of the third.
- Pardon my language, but holy shit, Tyrese Maxey. He is feeling good. After nailing a three off another dime from Harden, Maxey then used Harden’s patented step-back three to knock down another one. Harden then picked Garland’s pocket and hit Maxey for a dunk. Maxey’s personal 8-0 run puts the Sixers up 112-106 with 5:52 left.
- Much like the other night, having Harden is so crucial for moments like this. It’s almost like a four-minute offense in football. He just slows everything down, gets the Sixers lined up where they’re supposed to be and the team generally has a good offensive possession.
- Garland tried like hell to make things interesting down the stretch. The All-Star guard had a big night with 26 points and 18 assists. But Embiid and Harden were just too good down the stretch.
ICYMI...James Harden is a PHILADELPHIA 76ER! pic.twitter.com/w32HacIxur— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) March 5, 2022
- Embiid “only” scored 22 points and it didn’t matter. That has so rarely been the case this season. Maxey was brilliant with 33 points and five assists. Harden was also terrific with 25 points and 11 assists. Also big bench efforts from Niang (17 points) and Milton (11 points). Hell of a win.